Black and white TVs. Dial-up internet. Typewriters. Cursive writing. Are you feeling old yet? Us too. Many of these novelties of yesteryear are now nothing more than memories for many of us. But for Gen Z? They never got to experience the joy of learning cursive or waiting five minutes for the internet to load.
Instead, Gen Zs were born with mobile phones in hand. They’re digital natives—those who have spent their entire lives surrounded by and immersed in technology. They don’t know what it was like manually searching encyclopedias for research projects or not having access to information in less than 1.24 seconds.
All this got us thinking: what technology did Gen Zs grow up with, and how has it impacted them? We’ve put together a list—and it’s shocking how connected this tech-savvy generation has been… since birth. Let’s explore the three technologies Gen Z has never known a world without.
Growing up digital
For older generations, entertainment was far less connected. These generations didn't have iPads and cell phones before age 10. They weren't making millions as social media influencers. They didn't have instant access to information. But unlike prior generations, Gen Z is exceptionally connected. Always.
From the day Gen Zs were born, they were connected by three powerful technologies that have ultimately shaped every aspect of their lives.
- The (modern) internet
- Social media platforms
- Connected devices
Let's explore Gen Z's relationship with these technologies and how they've changed the way Gen Zs live and work.
H3: Instant access to the internet
While millennials—the generation before Gen Z—had access to the internet growing up, it wasn't as widespread or evolved as it is nowadays. Drawn-out dial tones and painfully slow loading times were common. And did we mention that Google just turned 25 in late 2023? The internet of the 90s is a far cry from the sophisticated and powerful internet Gen Zs know.
While their internet upbringing has helped Gen Zs conquer technology, this generation has become dependenton technology. Unlike the tech-fluent millennials before them, Gen Zs view technology as an extension of themselves, experiencing anxiety when they're away from their mobile devices. Their tech dependency often shows up in their life and work as:
- Anxiousness when they're away from their devices, like phones or laptops
- Losing sleep due to excessive tech use, like doom-scrolling Instagram before bed
- Relying on technology to organize their work and life
- Using (and preferring) technology as the primary means of communication
- Preferences for self-directed learning on digital platforms
What does this mean for employers? You need to embrace technology and meet Gen Z where they are. Collaboration tools like Asana and Slack not only help Gen Z employees stay organized, but they also help Gen Z feel connected—their way.
Instead of lengthy meetings, send a quick Slack message, email, or even a text. Chances are Gen Zs have these apps on their phones (where they’re always connected).
H3: The rise of social media
Whether TikTok, Snapchat, or Instagram, social media's popularity has grown exponentially over the past decade. According to a Kantar report, 81% of Gen Zs in the US are active on social media.
But it's more than just sharing photos and staying connected to family for Gen Z. Once they turn 13, they have access to social media accounts that can almost instantly turn them into internet sensations or influencers.
Many Gen Zs have turned social media into a six or seven-figure business by leveraging their personalities and tech-savviness to cultivate a following, entertain them, and partner with famous brands to make a living. In this way, social media (and technology) isn't just a tool—it's a way of life.
And with an app for every social platform available on mobile devices, Gen Z can stay connected to friends, share advice with strangers, give followers a peek into their lives, and so much more. But, as with anything, social media isn't without its downsides:
- While it can help Gen Zs connect with mental health resources, it often also causes negative feelingsabout body image and facilitates a fear of missing out (FOMO)
- McKinsey Health Institute’s (MHI’s) 2022 Global Gen Z Survey revealed that Gen Zs are more likely to have negative feelings about social media
- Gen Zs often use social media as a way to decrease loneliness and stay connected
But, as a connected generation, Gen Z is also more likely to use digital health and wellness apps or engage with digital programs focused on well-being. They also view social media as an ideal place to celebrate self-expression.
As the first fully digital generation, Gen Zs have grown up having virtual connections and more online conversations. Yes, they can connect with more people than ever online, but it may be impacting their ability to engage during in-person interactions, like with colleagues or managers in the workplace.
Connection on the go
Always an innovator and leader in the tech space, Apple drove many technology advancements in the early 2000s. First, it was the iPod (and its dozens of generations), then many other advancements, including the iPad, Macbook, and widely popular iPhone—all of which many Gen Zs had growing up.
The result? According to Insider Intelligence, it's that Gen Zs "expect on-demand information, streaming entertainment, and instantaneous communication in nearly every aspect of their lives." Any delay is, quite frankly, unacceptable.
Because their apps, social media platforms, and internet access are all on their mobile devices, Gen Zs have become reliant on these devices. The reliance has led to mobile-first technologies that keep Gen Z even more attached to their phones and tablets:
- Mobile pay options like Apple Pay
- Video streaming platforms like Hulu
- Music streaming services like Spotify
- Every social media platform
- Mobile banking
- Mobile games
A Pew Research Center Study revealed that almost all Gen Z teens (95%) have access to a smartphone. But what's even more surprising is that nearly half said they are online "almost constantly." Simply put, Gen Zs need to be connected—and data backs it up: 69% of Gen Zs feel uncomfortable after being away from internet access for more than eight hours. 27% get uncomfortable after an hour.
While many employees across generations have work apps like Gmail and Slack on their phones, Gen Z has dozens of apps at their fingertips, which means more distractions throughout the workday. Their digital addictions combined with instant access to social media, apps, and more might cause issues focusing while at work.
"When you're getting a device at five years old, you haven’t developed that ability to regulate yet. So it’s easier to slip into the impulsivity of using the technology and having a harder time breaking away from it. Individuals who are having significant issues with this, they’re gaming, or they’re on social media some 16 to 18 hours, 20 hours a day." - Jamie Mitus, associate professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Mental Health Professions at Hofstra University
How to “connect” with Gen Z at work
As the most connected generation of us all, you must meet Gen Z where they are and embrace technology. Whether you have a hybrid, fully remote, or all in-office team, you can leverage tech to engage with Gen Z meaningfully. We suggest:
- Use workplace collaboration tools to send emails, provide updates, and meet. Slack is ideal for casual conversations or group chats and providing quick updates. Platforms like Miro make brainstorming sessions powerful and more interactive. There are dozens of tools and software to help you work more efficiently with Gen Z and show them you're adapting to their way of work.
- Provide benefits they can access digitally, like free mental health subscriptions (Calm, Headspace) and access to workout programs, like the Nike workout app.
- Let them receive and redeem recognition and rewards all online. Want to shout out an exceptional employee? Send them a digital gift card or enroll in a rewards program where you and your team can do everything digitally.
At Madison Recognition our work is rooted in the belief that unleashing the productive potential of employees with reward and recognition programs and empowering individuals will help us stay ahead of workforce trends. Want to learn more about working with Gen Z? Download our white paper.