It turns out I’m not a millennial.
Of course, I’ve long claimed to be one. I have all the makings of a self-obsessed, tech-savvy, don’t-drive Young Person. But born in 1996, I am actually part of a completely new generation, one I like to call the “unknowns.”
Otherwise called Generation Z — or iGeneration (does the “i” stand for “interactive” or “international”?), post-millennials, or plurals, some think we are those born from 1995 through the 2010s, and others from the 2000s to the early 2020s. (Yes, there are more of us coming.) Perhaps it’s fitting that we can’t agree on any of this. In a culture obsessed with baby boomers and their millennial children, we might end up being one of those smothered generations, like our Generation X parents.
Millennials are the worldwide phenomenon that dominates social media feeds, branding initiatives, and the corporate world. We’re all obsessed with what millennials are, were, and could be. Meanwhile, unknowns made up 25 percent of the US population in 2015, a larger cohort than boomers or millennials.
Yet, like me, most of us don’t realize “we” exist.
According to a “Generation Z Goes to College” study that analyzed 1,100 Generation Z college students, we view our peers as being like millennials (competitive, spontaneous, adventuresome, and curious), and we tend to think we’re unusually different (loyal, compassionate, determined, and thoughtful).
Unlike millennials — and like the Silent Generation (boomers’ parents) — we’re too young to remember a world without problems. We didn’t get to see the optimism, economic boom, and American prowess of the 1990s. All we know is growing up in a world plagued by economic crashes, failed wars, and an obsession with terrorism. Findings from the marketing firm Frank N. Magid show we are the least likely to believe that there is such a thing as the American dream.
According to a 2013 survey by the discount broker Ameritrade, 46 percent of us are concerned about student debt and 36 percent of us are worried about affording college at all. Fewer of us are even considering college than in the millennial generation, and only about half of us think we’re going to have a better standard of living than our parents. Depression is on the rise.
On the bright side, however, unknowns are shaping up to be a diverse, tolerant, and global generation. We’re the last American generation to be majority Caucasian. We grew up in untraditional households and multiracial families. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41 percent of US babies are now born to unmarried mothers. We’re largely coming of age after same-sex marriage has been legally recognized. A Ford Motor survey said that 58 percent of adults worldwide think that kids today have more in common with their global peers than with adults in their own country.
We’re also far more realistic and measured with millennials when it comes to technology. We grew up with social media and YouTube channels. Rather than viewing technology as a cool new idea, it’s a way of life. We use our phones all the time, and we’re careful with privacy settings.
We want to participate with friends — and only friends — and we tolerate, not enjoy, Facebook. According to Millennial Branding, a research and management company, 53 percent of us prefer in-person communications over instant messaging or e-mail. We may even overcompensate on interpersonal skills and face-to-face contact, because we see millennials struggling with it.
The downside of technology is that we have short attention spans and 11 percent of us have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to Sparks & Honey, a branding and research company. We want big-picture advertising in a few seconds and short bursts of different types of work, facts bound to change the workplace of the future.
Unknowns are also more independent, entrepreneurial, and pragmatic about money than millennials. Sparks & Honey reported that 72 percent of high-school students today want to start a business someday, and over 75 percent are concerned about world hunger and our impact on the planet.
We’re more conservative when it comes to safe jobs, committed marriages, and working with a team. We want fulfillment and excitement in our jobs, we want to move out from our parents, and we want close friends. We’re risk-averse, we wear seat belts, and we drink less alcohol. We don’t believe that everyone can be Steve Jobs. This might be because our Generation X parents, unlike boomers, tended to helicopter us, tell us we really weren’t that special in a world of seven billion people, and encourage us to stay healthy and work hard. They are parents and coaches, not friends.
Of course, all of this might change. We’re a new generation, and most of us aren’t 18 yet. Some of us are still wearing diapers. But whether we end up being another silent generation or Millennials 2.0, soon we will be a little less unknown.