Embracing the complex world of the youth and digital by David Blyth, CEO Yellowwood The ‘always-on’ digital tendencies of the youth in the Generation Z and Millennial groups consistently manage to attract attention and criticism from older generations. In our recent White Paper, “A Youth Lost in Translation”, which is based on the findings of HDI Youth Marketeers’ research, we explore the views of 5400 urban and peri-urban youth and uncover both the positive and negative consequences that arise from the digital behaviour of South Africa’s youth.
While parents may worry that the youth’s obsession with being digitally connected makes them anti-social and disconnected from ‘the real world’, Generation Z believe quite the opposite. Their connectedness actually enables them to have close relationships with people around the globe and keeps them well-informed on current affairs.
One of the significant findings in our report is that the average age of cellphone ownership has dropped from 11 to 13 in 2008, to six to nine in 2015. Of the kids surveyed (eight to 13 years old), 62,7% own a cellphone. These children said they spend most of their time online downloading and playing games. Teens spend the most time instant messaging and 82,3% own a cellphone. More than 90% of young adults have a cellphone and spend far more time on social media than on research related to their studies or work.
The youth feel that instant messaging is better than face-to-face interaction and phone conversations. Mobile has overtaken fixed internet access, with 66,8% of survey respondents using their phones to access the internet most of the time. They are data-driven consumers, with most (62,1%) preferring data bundles to airtime.
However, the constant flow of information is not without its anxieties, as there is little parents can do to prevent their youngsters from seeing disturbing content, or subject matter that they may not be mature enough to adequately process.
Ray de Villiers, a TomorrowTodayGlobal consultant on the future world of work and expert on Millennials and Generation Z explains that “Generation Z are still children, and so the cognitive processing of all this information is still fundamentally a childish process. They are very naïve kids. If you had thoughts of working out how to prevent them seeing disturbing stuff, forget it, it’s too late. Rather be a part of the processing resource. Help them to understand what they are finding.”
The youth’s obsessive relationship with social media also contributes to their sense of anxiety, as they feel they have to constantly manage their online presence and image.
“Twitter never sleeps, Tumblr never sleeps, nor does Facebook. So, you have to make sure you are always up. If you don’t have at least 60 000 tweets on your account, you are not relevant,” commented one 18-year-old male respondent.
Social media is also a unique breeding ground for peer pressure, with some admitting that teenagers might feel pressure to bully others online so that they are seen as ‘being cool’.
So while it contributes to social complexities, having a digitally-inclined youth also means that we have a multi-tasking, smart, savvy, social and globally-aware generation developing – which will certainly make for a brighter, albeit back-lit, future.