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It’s Time to Stop Talking About “Generations”

By Louis Menand

The discovery that you can make money marketing merchandise to teen-agers dates from the early nineteen-forties, which is also when the term “youth culture” first appeared in print. There was a reason that those things happened when they did: high school. Back in 1910, most young people worked; only fourteen per cent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds were still in school. In 1940, though, that proportion was seventy-three per cent. A social space had opened up between dependency and adulthood, and a new demographic was born: “youth.”

The rate of high-school attendance kept growing. By 1955, eighty-four per cent of high-school-age Americans were in school. (The figure for Western Europe was sixteen per cent.) Then, between 1956 and 1969, college enrollment in the United States more than doubled, and “youth” grew from a four-year demographic to an eight-year one. By 1969, it made sense that everyone was talking about the styles and values and tastes of young people: almost half the population was under twenty-five.

Today, a little less than a third of the population is under twenty-five, but youth remains a big consumer base for social-media platforms, streaming services, computer games, music, fashion, smartphones, apps, and all kinds of other goods, from motorized skateboards to eco-friendly water bottles. To keep this market churning, and to give the consulting industry something to sell to firms trying to understand (i.e., increase the productivity of) their younger workers, we have invented a concept that allows “youth culture” to be redefined periodically. This is the concept of the generation.

The term is borrowed from human reproductive biology. In a kinship structure, parents and their siblings constitute “the older generation”; offspring and their cousins are “the younger generation.” The time it takes, in our species, for the younger generation to become the older generation is traditionally said to be around thirty years. (For the fruit fly, it’s ten days.) That is how the term is used in the Hebrew Bible, and Herodotus said that a century could be thought of as the equivalent of three generations.

Around 1800, the term got transplanted from the family to society. The new idea was that people born within a given period, usually thirty years, belong to a single generation. There is no sound basis in biology or anything else for this claim, but it gave European scientists and intellectuals a way to make sense of something they were obsessed with, social and cultural change. What causes change? Can we predict it? Can we prevent it? Maybe the reason societies change is that people change, every thirty years.

Before 1945, most people who theorized about generations were talking about literary and artistic styles and intellectual trends—a shift from Romanticism to realism, for example, or from liberalism to conservatism. The sociologist Karl Mannheim, in an influential essay published in 1928, used the term “generation units” to refer to writers, artists, and political figures who self-consciously adopt new ways of doing things. Mannheim was not interested in trends within the broader population. He assumed that the culture of what he called “peasant communities” does not change.

Nineteenth-century generational theory took two forms. For some thinkers, generational change was the cause of social and historical change. New generations bring to the world new ways of thinking and doing, and weed out beliefs and practices that have grown obsolete. This keeps society rejuvenated. Generations are the pulse of history. Other writers thought that generations were different from one another because their members carried the imprint of the historical events they lived through. The reason we have generations is that we have change, not the other way around.

There are traces of both the pulse hypothesis and the imprint hypothesis in the way we talk about generations today. We tend to assume that there is a rhythm to social and cultural history that maps onto generational cohorts, such that each cohort is shaped by, or bears the imprint of, major historical events—Vietnam, 9/11, COVID . But we also think that young people develop their own culture, their own tastes and values, and that this new culture displaces the culture of the generation that preceded theirs.

Today, the time span of a generational cohort is usually taken to be around fifteen years (even though the median age of first-time mothers in the U.S. is now twenty-six and of first-time fathers thirty-one). People born within that period are supposed to carry a basket of characteristics that differentiate them from people born earlier or later.

This supposition requires leaps of faith. For one thing, there is no empirical basis for claiming that differences within a generation are smaller than differences between generations. (Do you have less in common with your parents than with people you have never met who happen to have been born a few years before or after you?) The theory also seems to require that a person born in 1965, the first year of Generation X, must have different values, tastes, and life experiences from a person born in 1964, the last year of the baby-boom generation (1946-64). And that someone born in the last birth year of Gen X, 1980, has more in common with someone born in 1965 or 1970 than with someone born in 1981 or 1990.

Everyone realizes that precision dating of this kind is silly, but although we know that chronological boundaries can blur a bit, we still imagine generational differences to be bright-line distinctions. People talk as though there were a unique DNA for Gen X—what in the nineteenth century was called a generational “entelechy”—even though the difference between a baby boomer and a Gen X-er is about as meaningful as the difference between a Leo and a Virgo.

You could say the same things about decades, of course. A year is, like a biological generation, a measurable thing, the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun. But there is nothing in nature that corresponds to a decade—or a century, or a millennium. Those are terms of convenience, determined by the fact that we have ten fingers.

Yet we happily generalize about “the fifties” and “the sixties” as having dramatically distinct, well, entelechies. Decade-thinking is deeply embedded. For most of us, “She’s a seventies person” carries a lot more specific information than “She’s Gen X.” By this light, generations are just a novel way of slicing up the space-time continuum, no more arbitrary, and possibly a little less, than decades and centuries. The question, therefore, is not “Are generations real?” The question is “Are they a helpful way to understand anything?”

Bobby Duffy, the author of “The Generation Myth” (Basic), says yes, but they’re not as helpful as people think. Duffy is a social scientist at King’s College London. His argument is that generations are just one of three factors that explain changes in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. The others are historical events and “life-cycle effects,” that is, how people change as they age. His book illustrates, with a somewhat overwhelming array of graphs and statistics, how events and aging interact with birth cohort to explain differences in racial attitudes, happiness, suicide rates, political affiliations—you name it, for he thinks that his three factors explain everything.

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Duffy’s over-all finding is that people in different age groups are much more alike than all the talk about generations suggests, and one reason for all that talk, he thinks, is the consulting industry. He says that, in 2015, American firms spent some seventy million dollars on generational consulting (which doesn’t seem that much, actually). “What generational differences exist in the workplace?” he asks. His answer: “Virtually none.”

Duffy is good at using data to take apart many familiar generational characterizations. There is no evidence, he says, of a “loneliness epidemic” among young people, or of a rise in the rate of suicide. The falling off in sexual activity in the United States and the U.K. is population-wide, not just among the young.

He says that attitudes about gender in the United States correlate more closely with political party than with age, and that, in Europe, anyway, there are no big age divides in the recognition of climate change. There is “just about no evidence,” he says, that Generation Z (1997-2012, encompassing today’s college students) is more ethically motivated than other generations. When it comes to consumer boycotts and the like, “ ‘cancel culture’ seems to be more of a middle-age thing.” He worries that generational stereotypes—such as the characterization of Gen Z-ers as woke snowflakes—are promoted in order to fuel the culture wars.

The woke-snowflake stereotype is the target of “Gen Z, Explained” (Chicago), a heartfelt defense of the values and beliefs of contemporary college students. The book has four authors, Roberta Katz, Sarah Ogilvie, Jane Shaw, and Linda Woodhead—an anthropologist, a linguist, a historian, and a sociologist—and presents itself as a social-scientific study, including a “methodological appendix.” But it resembles what might be called journalistic ethnography: the portrayal of social types by means of interviews and anecdotes.

The authors adopt a key tenet of the pulse hypothesis. They see Gen Z-ers as agents of change, a generation that has created a youth culture that can transform society. (The fact that when they finished researching their book, in 2019, roughly half of Gen Z was under sixteen does not trouble them, just as the fact that at the time of Woodstock, in 1969, more than half the baby-boom generation was under thirteen doesn’t prevent people from making generalizations about the baby boomers.)

Their book is based on hour-long interviews with a hundred and twenty students at three colleges, two in California (Stanford and Foothill College, a well-regarded community college) and one in the U.K. (Lancaster, a selective research university). The authors inform us that the interviewees were chosen “by word of mouth and personal networking,” which sounds a lot like self-selection. It is, in any event (as they unapologetically acknowledge), hardly a randomized sample.

The authors tell us that the interviews were conducted entirely by student research assistants, which means that, unless the research assistants simply read questions off a list, there was no control over the depth or the direction of the interviews. There were also some focus groups, in which students talked about their lives with, mostly, their friends, an exercise performed in an echo chamber. Journalists, or popular ethnographers, would at least have met and observed their subjects. It’s mystifying why the authors felt a need to distance themselves in this way, given how selective their sample was to begin with. We are left with quotations detached from context. Self-reporting is taken at face value.

The authors supplemented the student interviews with a lexical glossary designed to pick out words and memes heavily used by young people, and with two surveys, designed by one of the authors (Woodhead) and conducted by YouGov, an Internet polling company, of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds in the United States and the U.K.

Where there is an awkward discrepancy between the survey results and what the college students say in the interviews, the authors attempt to explain it away. The YouGov surveys found that ninety-one per cent of all persons aged eighteen to twenty-five, American and British, identify as male or female, and only four per cent as gender fluid or nonbinary. (Five per cent declined to answer.) This does not match the impression created by the interviews, which suggest that there should be many more fluid and nonbinary young people out there, so the authors say that we don’t really know what the survey respondents meant by “male” and “female.” Well, then, maybe they should have been asked.

The authors attribute none of the characteristics they identify as Gen Z to the imprint of historical events—with a single exception: the rise of the World Wide Web. Gen Z is the first “born digital” generation. This fact has often been used to stereotype young people as screen-time addicts, captives of their smartphones, obsessed with how they appear on social media, and so on. The Internet is their “culture.” They are trapped in the Web. The authors of “Gen Z, Explained” emphatically reject this line of critique. They assure us that Gen Z-ers “understand both the potential and the downside of technology” and possess “critical awareness about the technology that shapes their lives.”

For the college students who were interviewed (although not, evidently, for the people who were surveyed), a big part of Gen Z culture revolves around identity. As the authors put it, “self-labeling has become an imperative that is impossible to escape.” This might seem to suggest a certain degree of self-absorption, but the authors assure us that these young people “are self-identified and self-reliant but markedly not self-centered, egotistical, or selfish.”

“Lily” is offered to illustrate the ethical richness of this new concern. It seems that Lily has a friend who is always late to meet with her: “She explained that while she of course wanted to honor and respect his unique identity, choices, and lifestyle—including his habitual tardiness—she was also frustrated by how that conflicted with her sense that he was then not respecting her identity and preference for timeliness.” The authors do not find this amusing.

The book’s big claim is that Gen Z-ers “may well be the heralds of new attitudes and expectations about how individuals and institutions can change for the better.” They have come up with new ways of working (collaborative), new forms of identity (fluid and intersectional), new concepts of community (diverse, inclusive, non-hierarchical).

Methodology aside, there is much that is refreshing here. There is no reason to assume that younger people are more likely to be passive victims of technology than older people (that assumption is classic old person’s bias), and it makes sense that, having grown up doing everything on a computer, Gen Z-ers have a fuller understanding of the digital universe than analog dinosaurs do. The dinosaurs can say, “You don’t know what you’re missing,” but Gen Z-ers can say, “You don’t understand what you’re getting.”

The claim that addiction to their devices is the cause of a rise in mental disorders among teen-agers is a lot like the old complaint that listening to rock and roll turns kids into animals. The authors cite a recent study (not their own) that concludes that the association between poor mental health and eating potatoes is greater than the association with technology use. We’re all in our own fishbowls. We should hesitate before we pass judgment on what life is like in the fishbowls of others.

The major problem with “Gen Z, Explained” is not so much the authors’ fawning tone, or their admiration for the students’ concerns—“environmental degradation, equality, violence, and injustice”—even though they are the same concerns that almost everyone in their social class has, regardless of age. The problem is the “heralds of a new dawn” stuff.

“A crisis looms for all unless we can find ways to change,” they warn. “Gen Zers have ideas of the type of world they would like to bring into being. By listening carefully to what they are saying, we can appreciate the lessons they have to teach us: be real, know who you are, be responsible for your own well-being, support your friends, open up institutions to the talents of the many, not the few, embrace diversity, make the world kinder, live by your values.”

I believe we have been here before, Captain. Fifty-one years ago, The New Yorker ran a thirty-nine-thousand-word piece that began:

There is a revolution under way . . . It is now spreading with amazing rapidity, and already our laws, institutions, and social structure are changing in consequence. Its ultimate creation could be a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual. This is the revolution of the new generation.

The author was a forty-two-year-old Yale Law School professor named Charles Reich, and the piece was an excerpt from his book “The Greening of America,” which, when it came out, later that year, went to No. 1 on the Times best-seller list.

Reich had been in San Francisco in 1967, during the so-called Summer of Love, and was amazed and excited by the flower-power wing of the counterculture—the bell-bottom pants (about which he waxes ecstatic in the book), the marijuana and the psychedelic drugs, the music, the peace-and-love life style, everything.

He became convinced that the only way to cure the ills of American life was to follow the young people. “The new generation has shown the way to the one method of change that will work in today’s post-industrial society: revolution by consciousness,” he wrote. “This means a new way of living, almost a new man. This is what the new generation has been searching for, and what it has started to achieve.”

So how did that work out? The trouble, of course, was that Reich was basing his observations and predictions on, to use Mannheim’s term, a generation unit—a tiny number of people who were hyperconscious of their choices and values and saw themselves as being in revolt against the bad thinking and failed practices of previous generations. The folks who showed up for the Summer of Love were not a representative sample of sixties youth.

Most young people in the sixties did not practice free love, take drugs, or protest the war in Vietnam. In a poll taken in 1967, when people were asked whether couples should wait to have sex until they were married, sixty-three per cent of those in their twenties said yes, virtually the same as in the general population. In 1969, when people aged twenty-one to twenty-nine were asked whether they had ever used marijuana, eighty-eight per cent said no. When the same group was asked whether the United States should withdraw immediately from Vietnam, three-quarters said no, about the same as in the general population.

Most young people in the sixties were not even notably liberal. When people who attended college from 1966 to 1968 were asked which candidate they preferred in the 1968 Presidential election, fifty-three per cent said Richard Nixon or George Wallace. Among those who attended college from 1962 to 1965, fifty-seven per cent preferred Nixon or Wallace, which matched the results in the general election.

The authors of “Gen Z, Explained” are making the same erroneous extrapolation. They are generalizing on the basis of a very small group of privileged people, born within five or six years of one another, who inhabit insular communities of the like-minded. It’s fine to try to find out what these people think. Just don’t call them a generation.

Buffalo walk one behind the other in a straight line.

Most of the millions of Gen Z-ers may be quite different from the scrupulously ethical, community-minded young people in the book. Duffy cites a survey, conducted in 2019 by a market-research firm, in which people were asked to name the characteristics of baby boomers, Gen X-ers, millennials (1981-96), and Gen Z-ers. The top five characteristics assigned to Gen Z were: tech-savvy, materialistic, selfish, lazy, and arrogant. The lowest-ranked characteristic was ethical. When Gen Z-ers were asked to describe their own generation, they came up with an almost identical list. Most people born after 1996 apparently don’t think quite as well of themselves as the college students in “Gen Z, Explained” do.

In any case, “explaining” people by asking them what they think and then repeating their answers is not sociology. Contemporary college students did not invent new ways of thinking about identity and community. Those were already rooted in the institutional culture of higher education. From Day One, college students are instructed about the importance of diversity, inclusion, honesty, collaboration—all the virtuous things that the authors of “Gen Z, Explained” attribute to the new generation. Students can say (and some do say) to their teachers and their institutions, “You’re not living up to those values.” But the values are shared values.

And they were in place long before Gen Z entered college. Take “intersectionality,” which the students in “Gen Z, Explained” use as a way of refining traditional categories of identity. That term has been around for more than thirty years. It was coined (as the authors note) in 1989, by the law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. And Crenshaw was born in 1959. She’s a boomer.

“Diversity,” as an institutional priority, dates back even farther. It played a prominent role in the affirmative-action case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in 1978, which opened the constitutional door to race-conscious admissions. That was three “generations” ago. Since then, almost every selective college has worked to achieve a diverse student body and boasts about it when it succeeds. College students think of themselves and their peers in terms of identity because of how the institution thinks of them.

People who went to college in an earlier era may find this emphasis a distraction from students’ education. Why should they be constantly forced to think about their own demographic profiles and their differences from other students? But look at American politics—look at world politics—over the past five years. Aren’t identity and difference kind of important things to understand?

And who creates “youth culture,” anyway? Older people. Youth has agency in the sense that it can choose to listen to the music or wear the clothing or march in the demonstrations or not. And there are certainly ground-up products (bell-bottoms, actually). Generally, though, youth has the same degree of agency that I have when buying a car. I can choose the model I want, but I do not make the cars.

Failure to recognize the way the fabric is woven leads to skewed social history. The so-called Silent Generation is a particularly outrageous example. That term has come to describe Americans who went to high school and college in the nineteen-fifties, partly because it sets up a convenient contrast to the baby-boom generation that followed. Those boomers, we think—they were not silent! In fact, they mostly were.

The term “Silent Generation” was coined in 1951, in an article in Time —and so was not intended to characterize the decade. “Today’s generation is ready to conform,” the article concluded. Time defined the Silent Generation as people aged eighteen to twenty-eight—that is, those who entered the workforce mostly in the nineteen-forties. Though the birth dates of Time’s Silent Generation were 1923 to 1933, the term somehow migrated to later dates, and it is now used for the generation born between 1928 and 1945.

So who were these silent conformists? Gloria Steinem, Muhammad Ali, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Noam Chomsky, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billie Jean King, Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, Berry Gordy, Amiri Baraka, Ken Kesey, Huey Newton, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol . . . Sorry, am I boring you?

It was people like these, along with even older folks, like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Pauli Murray, who were active in the culture and the politics of the nineteen-sixties. Apart from a few musicians, it is hard to name a single major figure in that decade who was a baby boomer. But the boomers, most of whom were too young then even to know what was going on, get the credit (or, just as unfairly, the blame).

Mannheim thought that the great danger in generational analysis was the elision of class as a factor in determining beliefs, attitudes, and experiences. Today, we would add race, gender, immigration status, and any number of other “preconditions.” A woman born to an immigrant family in San Antonio in 1947 had very different life chances from a white man born in San Francisco that year. Yet the baby-boom prototype is a white male college student wearing striped bell-bottoms and a peace button, just as the Gen Z prototype is a female high-school student with spending money and an Instagram account.

For some reason, Duffy, too, adopts the conventional names and dates of the postwar generations (all of which originated in popular culture). He offers no rationale for this, and it slightly obscures one of his best points, which is that the most formative period for many people happens not in their school years but once they leave school and enter the workforce. That is when they confront life-determining economic and social circumstances, and where factors like their race, their gender, and their parents’ wealth make an especially pronounced difference to their chances.

Studies have consistently indicated that people do not become more conservative as they age. As Duffy shows, however, some people find entry into adulthood delayed by economic circumstances. This tends to differentiate their responses to survey questions about things like expectations. Eventually, he says, everyone catches up. In other words, if you are basing your characterization of a generation on what people say when they are young, you are doing astrology. You are ascribing to birth dates what is really the result of changing conditions.

Take the boomers: when those who were born between 1946 and 1952 entered the workforce, the economy was surging. When those who were born between 1953 and 1964 entered it, the economy was a dumpster fire. It took longer for younger boomers to start a career or buy a house. People in that kind of situation are therefore likely to register in surveys as “materialistic.” But it’s not the Zeitgeist that’s making them that way. It’s just the business cycle. ♦

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Jonathan Haidt on “The Anxious Generation”

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Digital Generations: Children, Young People and New Media

Online Information Review

ISSN : 1468-4527

Article publication date: 2 October 2007

  • Information society
  • Children (age groups)
  • Young people

Srisa‐ard, S. (2007), "Digital Generations: Children, Young People and New Media", Online Information Review , Vol. 31 No. 5, pp. 706-707.

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book looks into the future on how our world is changing with technology and entertainment and the effects it will have on us and society as a whole. It also seeks to find the new opportunities for creativity and self‐determination from these computer technologies, and the mindset of different people and cultures from around the world. The book draws on selected papers presented at an international conference held at the Institute of Education, London University, in July 2004, which brought together researchers from a range of academic disciplines including media and cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology and education.

The book is organized into 17 chapters under four key themes. The first chapter, “Is there a digital generation?”, is an introduction addressing the concept of the digital generation, the social history of generations, accounting for media and technology, the generational hypothesis, and other arguments. Following Chapter 1 are Parts 1 to 4 containing four chapters under each key theme. Part 1, Play and gaming, focuses on different aspects of young people's play‐related engagements with digital culture, the negative effects and educational potential of computer games, approaches to analyzing gaming experiences, and the multimedia nature of young people's fan productions.

Part 2, The internet, presents research on parents' regulation of the internet at home, uses of the internet for political communication and its role in promoting civic participation, and the political economy of internet regulation. Part 3, Identities and online communities, addresses the experience of girls, gay and lesbian youth, blogging, and informal learning in online communities. This section gives evidence that the internet is providing valuable purpose for many different audiences, as well as developing communities for encouragement, entertainment, advice and support.

Part 4, Learning and education, presents research on the use of new technologies in youth and community projects and schools, and discussions of the role of education with respect to the digital divide from rural South Africa to the United Kingdom and the USA. This section focuses on initiatives that involve more‐or‐less explicit teaching via the use of digital media. This section concludes by arguing that we need to look beyond technology and focus on the socio‐cultural context in which it is used. It is clear that technology cannot teach, but it can make a significant difference to learning, and to young people's identities and life chances depending on the motivations of those who use it.

This book presents a variety of interesting and provocative findings from a range of projects on children, young people and new digital media. It provides valuable insights for researchers in this field, as well as for educators, students, parents, and practitioners in digital media.

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Gen Z are not ‘coddled.’ They are highly collaborative, self-reliant and pragmatic, according to new Stanford-affiliated research

Generation Z, the first generation never to know the world without the internet, value diversity and finding their own unique identities, says Stanford scholar Roberta Katz.

Generation Z – also known as Gen Z, iGen or postmillennial – are a highly collaborative cohort that cares deeply about others and have a pragmatic attitude about how to address a set of inherited issues like climate change, according to research by Roberta Katz, a senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) .

what is digital generation essay

Roberta Katz (Image credit: Charles Katz)

Since 2017, Katz, along with her co-authors, Sarah Ogilvie, a linguist at the University of Oxford and formerly at Stanford; Jane Shaw, a historian who is the principal of Harris Manchester College at Oxford and was previously dean for Religious Life at Stanford; and Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at King’s College London, collaborated as part of a multi-year CASBS research project to better understand a generation who, born between the mid-1990s to around 2010, grew up with digital tools always at their fingertips.

Their findings are based on some 120 interviews gathered on three college campuses – Stanford University; Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos Hills, California; and Lancaster University, a research university in Lancaster, England. A set of focus groups and two surveys in the U.S. and the U.K. were administered to a representative sample of over 2,000 adults aged between 18 and 25 years old.

Contributing further to the scholar’s understanding of Gen Z was the creation of the “ iGen corpus ,” a 70 million item digital repository of spoken and written language of people aged 16 to 25 years that included transcripts from the researchers’ interviews and focus groups, as well as public data from the social media platforms Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, 4chan and YouTube, as well as memes and copypastas from Facebook and Instagram. Ogilvie, the principal investigator on the corpus research team, along with a team of Stanford student research assistants, applied machine learning algorithms to discover the many ways in which young people today express themselves.

Taken together, the scholars’ research offers a snapshot of who Gen Zers really are, what matters to them and why. Findings from Katz’s and her co-authors’ research are detailed in a new book, Gen Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

Here, Katz discusses some of what she and her colleagues learned from their extensive research into how Gen Zers, the most diverse generation yet , experience and understand the world.

Based on your research, can you briefly describe the typical Gen Zer?

In summary, a typical Gen Zer is a self-driver who deeply cares about others, strives for a diverse community, is highly collaborative and social, values flexibility, relevance, authenticity and non-hierarchical leadership, and, while dismayed about inherited issues like climate change, has a pragmatic attitude about the work that has to be done to address those issues.

How has growing up in an internet-connected society shaped how Gen Zers see and experience the world and everyday life?

Internet-related technologies have dramatically changed the speed, scale and scope of human communications, resulting in significant changes in how people work, play, shop, find friends and learn about other people. For Gen Zers living in the United States and Britain (the two places we studied), the “norm” they experienced as children was a world that operated at speed, scale and scope. They developed an early facility with powerful digital tools that allowed them to be self-reliant as well as collaborative. Similarly, because they could learn about people and cultures around the globe from an early age, they developed a greater appreciation for diversity and the importance of finding their own unique identities.

What do people most misunderstand or get wrong about Gen Zers?

For quite a while, people were critical of what they saw as a generation that was too coddled and “soft.” Gen Zers were called “snowflakes” and “unwilling to grow up.” But much of that negative judgment came from a misunderstanding of what it is like to grow up in today’s world when compared with how their elders grew up. As an example, Gen Zers have been criticized as lazy because they don’t have after-school or summer jobs. But many Gen Zers have been earning significant dollars online through a variety of activities, even including product placements on fashion-advice sites. Another example concerns drivers’ licenses: older people, for whom getting a driver’s license was a rite of passage toward adulthood, have criticized Gen Zers who do not rush to take their driver’s tests when they turn 16, but this criticism fails to consider that Gen Zers have no need to drive when they have ready access to ride services like Uber and Lyft.

Do you think Gen Zers get an undeserved bad rap?

Yes, but that is changing. Of late, many people are beginning to appreciate the strength and pragmatism of Gen Zers.

What were you most surprised to learn about Gen Zers?

Our biggest surprise came in response to this interview question: “What type of communication do you like best?” We expected the interviewees to respond with their favorite type of digital communication – e.g., text, email, chat group, DM, FaceTime, Skype, etc. – but instead nearly every single person said their favorite form of communication was “in person.”

As Gen Zers enter the workforce, what would be helpful for other generations to know about their post-millennial colleagues?

For those who are now experiencing Gen Zers in the workplace, my advice is to recognize that these new colleagues are used to working collaboratively and flexibly, with an eye to being efficient in getting the job done. They are pragmatic and value direct communication, authenticity and relevance. They also value self-care. They may be more likely than older people were when they were the age of the Gen Zers to question rules and authority because they are so used to finding what they need on their own. They are not always right; often they don’t know what they need, especially in a new setting, and this is where inter-generational dialogue can be so helpful. Both the older and the younger colleagues can learn from the other, in each case by listening with more respect, appreciation and trust. The older colleague can learn some helpful new ways of getting a job done, while the younger colleague may learn good reasons for why things have long been done in a certain way. Without that dialogue, we’ll have a wasteful tug of war between the past and the future. The goal is for older and younger generations to work together, with openness and trust, to ensure that the wisdom – but not what has become the excess baggage – of the past is not lost to the future.

How has studying Gen Zers changed your own interactions with this generation?

I came to understand that Gen Zers are, on the whole, much better adapted to life in a digital age than those of us who are older and that they can be very frustrated by what appear to them to be outdated and often irrelevant ways of doing things. As one simple example that we cite in the book, an older person would likely assume that any organization needs a set of officers, for that has been the norm in their experience, but a Gen Zer would say, from their lived experience, that there is no need to elect officers (or other leaders) if the group can accomplish its mission through online collaborations that take advantage of the participants’ diverse skills.

In my own interactions with Gen Zers, I am much more likely than I used to be to listen closely to what they say, and to refrain from making a judgment about their ideas, values and behaviors based on an assumption that they are wrong and I am right. They often do things differently, have some different values and have some different ideas about the future than I do, and I have come to appreciate and trust that they often have a new and better approach. Many of us who are older have a different understanding of how the world works, which is rooted in our own early experiences, so it’s easy for us to assume that the world will continue to operate in much the same way going forward and that the young people need to adapt to that older way of living. But the younger people are necessarily future-oriented, and as we all are increasingly coming to appreciate, the digital-age future is quite different from the industrial-age past.

For 13 years, Katz served under Stanford University Presidents John Hennessy and Marc Tessier-Lavigne as the associate vice president for strategic planning. She also served as President Tessier-Lavigne’s interim chief of staff until early 2017. Katz has been deeply involved in the facilitation of a variety of interdisciplinary research initiatives at Stanford, and she is a current member of the CASBS board of directors.

This research was funded by the Knight Foundation.

What is Gen Z?

" "

Gen Z is currently the second-youngest generation, with millennials before and Generation Alpha after. Like every generation, Gen Z’s behaviors are shaped by how they grew up. Young people today have come of age in the shadow of climate doom, pandemic lockdowns, and fears of economic collapse. The first Gen Zers were born when the internet had just achieved widespread use. They’re called “ digital natives ”—the first generation to grow up with the internet as a part of daily life. The generation spans a wide range: the oldest Gen Zers have jobs and mortgages, while the youngest are still preteens. Globally, Gen Z is growing fast: Gen Zers will make up a quarter of the population  of the Asia–Pacific region by 2025. Read on to understand what makes Gen Z tick.

Learn more about our Growth, Marketing & Sales Practice .

What is a generation?

Get to know and directly engage with senior mckinsey experts on gen z..

Anita Balchandani is a senior partner in McKinsey’s London office; Erica Coe is a partner in the Atlanta office; Kana Enomoto is a senior knowledge expert and associate partner in the Washington, DC, office; Tracy Francis is a senior partner in the São Paulo office; and Jennifer Schmidt is a senior partner in the Minneapolis office.

No doubt you’re already familiar with the concept of generation within families. Your grandparents, parents, children, and children’s children all make up a distinct generation in relation to you. But each of them also belongs to a diffuse category of their peers, grouped together based on when they were born and what they experience during their lives. Social scientists have studied generations—in theory and more practically—for millennia. More recently, thinkers like August Comte have argued that generational change is the engine behind social change. More specifically, each generation entering into a new life stage at more or less the same time is the pulse that creates the history of a society.

Specific major-scale events can also shape the outlook of a generation and are often reflected in how they’re named. The Lost Generation, for example, is named for the malaise and disillusionment experienced by people who lived through World War I. Later, the Greatest Generation was named for the heroic sacrifice many made during World War II. Their children, born soon after the war ended, are called baby boomers; their outlook, in turn, was colored by the Vietnam War and the social upheavals of the 1960s. More recently, millennials’ worldviews have been shaped by the September 11 attacks and the proliferation of the internet.

Of course, these are generalizations: every so-called generation comprises a multitude of unique individuals with their own opinions, values, behaviors, and plans for the future. Some social scientists even believe that the practice of studying generations can obfuscate what motivates people on an individual level. Generational theory should be understood with this caveat, and used only as a way of thinking about society, rather than the gospel truth.

What is unique about Gen Z?

While there are substantive differences within the cohort known as Gen Z, there are a few commonalities its members share .

As the first real digital natives, Gen Zers—speaking generally—are extremely online . Gen Zers are known for working, shopping, dating, and making friends online; in Asia, Gen Zers spend six or more hours per day on their phones .

Digital natives often turn to the internet when looking for any kind of information, including news and reviews prior to making a purchase . They flit between sites, apps, and social media feeds , each one forming a different part of their online ecosystem. Having grown up with social media, Gen Zers curate their online selves  more carefully than those in prior generations have, and they are more likely to turn to trends of anonymity, more personalized feeds, and a smaller online presence, even as they voraciously consume media online .

Video-sharing social media sites have seen a meteoric rise as Gen Z comes of age. TikTok currently rules trends, feelings, and culture for Gen Zers, who make up 60 percent of the app’s one billion-plus users . Gen Zers flock to corners of the internet where they can discuss their passions and interests with those who share them—from gaming  to K-pop —bonding with both people they know in real life and ones they’ve only met online.

Gen Z also faces an unprecedented behavioral health crisis: US Gen Zers surveyed by McKinsey report the least positive outlook and the highest prevalence of mental illness  of any generation, and European respondents report struggling with self-stigma. This pessimism is fueled by growing global unrest , wars and disruptions , financial crises , and educational interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic . Feelings of “climate anxiety” are also widely reported : many Gen Zers report that they think about the fate of the planet on a daily basis.

They are already seeing decreased economic opportunity  and don’t assume a social safety net will be there to catch them as pensions shrink, saving for retirement gets more difficult , and the older population grows . Already, 58 percent of Gen Zers in a recent McKinsey survey reported not having a basic social need met —the largest percentage by far of any generation.

But Gen Zers also report a more nuanced perspective around the stigma of mental illness than other generations. European Gen Zers seem less inclined to discriminate against people with mental illness ( although they do stigmatize themselves ).

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However, Gen Z is also generally known for its idealism —they’re part of a new wave of “ inclusive consumers ” and socially progressive dreamers. Generally speaking, Gen Zers believe in doing their part to help stop the intensification of climate change  and to establish greater equity for all. More than any other generation, Gen Z collectively demands purpose and accountability , the creation of more opportunities for people of diverse and underrepresented backgrounds , and rigorous sustainable and green practices .

Learn more about McKinsey’s Retail , Healthcare , and Sustainability  Practices, and check out our Diversity and Inclusion collection .

How are Gen Zers different from millennials?

Those on the cusp of Gen Z and millennial—people who were born shortly before the turn of the millennium—are sometimes referred to as “Zillennials” or “Zennials.” That includes older Gen Zers who’ve been in the workforce for a few years and young millennials who identify more with Gen Z.

However, Gen Z generally has its own formative experiences distinct from those of most millennials . Here are some ways American Gen Zers differ from their older counterparts :

  • They are generally more pragmatic , with both complicated idealism and worries for the future. Gen Zers dream of personal career fulfillment but expect economic struggles.
  • They have less positive life outlooks , with lower levels of emotional and social well-being than older generations.
  • They are more interested in belonging to an inclusive, supportive community .
  • They are more individualistic, with a stronger sense  of personal expression.
  • They are more politically and socially active , advocating for what they believe on social media.

What are Gen Z’s values?

Gen Zers generally have strong values related to racial justice  and sustainability . Mobilizations like the Global Climate March, led by Gen Z activist Greta Thunberg, thrive on the activism of young people.

Climate change is one of the issues  Gen Zers care about most. They frequently call for reform on personal, public, and global scales to prevent future catastrophe. Many Gen Zers describe themselves as environmentally conscious, and the majority of Gen Z expects to see sustainability commitments  from companies and organizations.

Gen Z is also living in a time marked by rapidly rising inflation  and financial woes. Rising student loan debt  also plagues many members of this generation.

What are Gen Z fashion trends?

Gen Z loves expressive clothes, wants to stand out rather than fit in , and has an ever-changing style —what was in a month ago might already be out today. Their trend-chasing habits are supported by fast-fashion retailers supplying accessible ways to switch it up. One Gen Z staple shop, Chinese fast-fashion giant Shein, adds 6,000 new products to its website per day . This may seem at odds with the generation’s values of sustainability, but the speed at which Gen Z trends change and their desire for unique style can sometimes overcome their eco-scruples.

Gen Zers also love thrifting and vintage styles—which are much more in line with their calls for circular fashion . Both ’90s and y2k-style clothes have seen a major comeback, including fast-fashion dupes and clothes dug out of closets and thrift stores. Fashion resale has experienced massive growth  thanks to Gen Z resellers and influencers, and it’s normal for a Gen Z wardrobe to be a mix of cheap fast fashion and treasured vintage pieces.

Learn more about McKinsey’s Retail Practice .

What do Gen Z shoppers want?

The internet has changed retail forever and shaped the tastes of digital natives. Here’s how:

  • Consumption is about access rather than ownership —Gen Zers subscribe to streaming platforms instead of buying films or music. This trend extends even to services like car shares or luxury-clothing rentals.
  • Gen Zers accept their tastes might change, and they are more likely to spend on experiences that enrich their day-to-day lives  than millennials, who are more likely to splurge on luxury.
  • Members of this generation care about ease of use: mobile pay, app-based services, and simple online transactions are important, and brands have found major success by restructuring to suit Gen Z tastes .
  • Gen Zers like brick-and-mortar stores more than millennials do but still want a great online shopping experience . Some brands have even found success through online-first launches , often supported by Gen Z consumers.
  • Ads are everywhere; Gen Zers experience brands “ at every moment ” as they move through their digital and physical worlds.

And as a generation committed to its values, Gen Z expects the same of its retailers—Gen Zers often choose brands that have a strong story or purpose , as well as those committed to green practices . In one McKinsey study, 73 percent of Gen Z reported trying to purchase from companies they consider ethical, and nine out of ten believe  that companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues . However, they can tell when a brand is just paying lip service and isn’t backing up diversity  or sustainability claims with real change.

Many Gen Zers throughout Asia see the internet as the first place to go  when researching new products to purchase; in the United States, 40 percent of Gen Zers admit to being influenced online , often by the brands featured in the videos they watch. Members filter a lot of information, from influencers, family, and friends, to decide where and how they want to spend .

For more in-depth exploration of these topics, see McKinsey’s Generation Z collection . Learn more about Gen Z insights by subscribing to our newsletter —and check out entry-level job opportunities if you’re interested in working at McKinsey.

Articles referenced include:

  • “ The Gen Z Equation ,” June 26, 2023, McKinsey Quarterly Five Fifty
  • “ Heat waves, the war in Ukraine, and stigma: Gen Z’s perspectives on mental health ,” September 27, 2022, Lea Arora, Erica Coe , Martin Dewhurst, and Kana Enomoto
  • “ Addressing the unprecedented behavioral-health challenges facing Generation Z ,” January 14, 2022, Erica Coe , Jenny Cordina , Kana Enomoto , Raelyn Jacobson , Sharon Mei, and Nikhil Seshan
  • “ Giving Gen Z customers what they want: A conversation with by.U ,” November 11, 2021, Edward Ying, Trio Lumbantoruan, and Andrew Roth
  • “ Gen Z and the Latin American consumer today, ” December 10, 2020, Tracy Francis  and Fernanda Hoefel
  • “ How Gen Z and millennials are shaping the future of US retail ,” September 28, 2020, Bo Finneman  and Emma Spagnuolo
  • “ Meet Generation Z: Shaping the future of shopping ,” August 4, 2020, Bo Finneman  and Emma Spagnuolo
  • “ The young and the restless: Generation Z in America ,” March 20, 2020, Shruti Bhargava, Bo Finneman , Jennifer Schmidt , and Emma Spagnuolo
  • “ Asia’s Generation Z comes of age ,” March 17, 2020, Thomas Rüdiger Smith and Naomi Yamakawa
  • “ The influence of ‘woke’ consumers on fashion ,” February 12, 2019, Imran Amed, Anita Balchandani , Marco Beltrami, Achim Berg , Saskia Hedrich, and Felix Rölkens
  • “‘ True Gen’: Generation Z and its implications for companies ,” November 12, 2018, Tracy Francis  and  Fernanda Hoefel

" "

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Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins

Our approach to generational analysis has evolved to incorporate new considerations. Learn more about  how we currently report on generations , and read  tips for consuming generations research .

For decades, Pew Research Center has been committed to measuring public attitudes on key issues and documenting differences in those attitudes across demographic groups. One lens often employed by researchers at the Center to understand these differences is that of generation.

Generations provide the opportunity to look at Americans both by their place in the life cycle – whether a young adult, a middle-aged parent or a retiree – and by their membership in a cohort of individuals who were born at a similar time.

Michael Dimock

As we’ve examined in past work , generational cohorts give researchers a tool to analyze changes in views over time. They can provide a way to understand how different formative experiences (such as world events and technological, economic and social shifts) interact with the life-cycle and aging process to shape people’s views of the world. While younger and older adults may differ in their views at a given moment, generational cohorts allow researchers to examine how today’s older adults felt about a given issue when they themselves were young, as well as to describe how the trajectory of views might differ across generations.

Pew Research Center has been studying the Millennial generation  for more than a decade . But by 2018, it became clear to us that it was time to determine a cutoff point between Millennials and the next generation. Turning 38 this year, the oldest Millennials are well into adulthood , and they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born.

In order to keep the Millennial generation analytically meaningful, and to begin looking at what might be unique about the next cohort, Pew Research Center decided a year ago to use 1996 as the last birth year for Millennials for our future work. Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38 in 2019) is considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward is part of a new generation.

Generation dominates online searches for information on the post-Millennial generation

Since the oldest among this rising generation are just turning 22 this year, and most are still in their teens or younger, we hesitated at first to give them a name – Generation Z , the iGeneration and Homelanders were some early candidates. (In our first in-depth look  at this generation, we used the term “post-Millennials” as a placeholder.) But over the past year, Gen Z has taken hold in popular culture and journalism. Sources ranging from Merriam-Webster and Oxford to the Urban Dictionary  now include this name for the generation that follows Millennials, and Google Trends data show that “Generation Z” is far outpacing other names in people’s searches for information. While there is no scientific process for deciding when a name has stuck, the momentum is clearly behind Gen Z.

Generational cutoff points aren’t an exact science. They should be viewed primarily as tools, allowing for the kinds of analyses detailed above. But their boundaries are not arbitrary. Generations are often considered by their span, but again there is no agreed upon formula for how long that span should be. At 16 years (1981 to 1996), our working definition of Millennials is equivalent in age span to their preceding generation, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980). By this definition, both are shorter than the span of the Baby Boomers (19 years) – the only generation officially designated by the U.S. Census Bureau , based on the famous surge in post-WWII births in 1946 and a significant decline in birthrates after 1964.

Unlike the Boomers, there are no comparably definitive thresholds by which later generational boundaries are defined. But for analytical purposes, we believe 1996 is a meaningful cutoff between Millennials and Gen Z for a number of reasons, including key political, economic and social factors that define the Millennial generation’s formative years.

The generations defined

Most Millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20 when the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and many were old enough to comprehend the historical significance of that moment, while most members of Gen Z have little or no memory of the event. Millennials also grew up in the shadow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which sharpened broader views of the parties and contributed to the intense political polarization that shapes the current political environment. And most Millennials were between 12 and 27 during the 2008 election, where the force of the youth vote became part of the political conversation and helped elect the first black president. Added to that is the fact that Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. Yet the next generation – Generation Z – is even more diverse .

Beyond politics, most Millennials came of age and entered the workforce facing the height of an economic recession. As is well documented , many of Millennials’ life choices, future earnings and entrance to adulthood have been shaped by this recession in a way that may not be the case for their younger counterparts. The long-term effects of this “slow start” for Millennials will be a factor in American society for decades.

Technology, in particular the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact, is another generation-shaping consideration. Baby Boomers grew up as television expanded dramatically, changing their lifestyles and connection to the world in fundamental ways. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and Millennials came of age during the internet explosion.

In this progression, what is unique for Generation Z is that all of the above have been part of their lives from the start. The iPhone launched in 2007, when the oldest Gen Zers were 10. By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young Americans connected with the web was through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age. For those born after 1996, these are largely assumed.

The implications of growing up in an “always on” technological environment are only now coming into focus. Recent research has shown dramatic shifts in youth behaviors, attitudes and lifestyles – both positive and concerning – for those who came of age in this era. What we don’t know is whether these are lasting generational imprints or characteristics of adolescence that will become more muted over the course of their adulthood. Beginning to track this new generation over time will be of significant importance.

Pew Research Center is not the first to draw an analytical line between Millennials and the generation to follow them, and many have offered well-reasoned arguments for drawing that line a few years earlier or later than where we have. Perhaps, as more data are collected over the years, a clear, singular delineation will emerge. We remain open to recalibrating if that occurs. But more than likely the historical, technological, behavioral and attitudinal data will show more of a continuum across generations than a threshold. As has been the case in the past, this means that the differences within generations can be just as great as the differences across generations, and the youngest and oldest within a commonly defined cohort may feel more in common with bordering generations than the one to which they are assigned. This is a reminder that generations themselves are inherently diverse and complex groups, not simple caricatures.

In the near term, you will see a number of reports and analyses from the Center that continue to build on our portfolio of generational research. Today, we issued a report looking – for the first time – at how members of Generation Z view some of the key social and political issues facing the nation today and how their views compare with those of older generations. To be sure, the views of this generation are not fully formed and could change considerably as they age and as national and global events intervene. Even so, this early look provides some compelling clues about how Gen Z will help shape the future political landscape.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing demographic analyses that compare Millennials to previous generations at the same stage in their life cycle to see if the demographic, economic and household dynamics of Millennials continue to stand apart from their predecessors. In addition, we will build on our research on teens’ technology use  by exploring the daily lives, aspirations and pressures today’s 13- to 17-year-olds face as they navigate the teenage years.

Yet, we remain cautious about what can be projected onto a generation when they remain so young. Donald Trump may be the first U.S. president most Gen Zers know as they turn 18, and just as the contrast between George W. Bush and Barack Obama shaped the political debate for Millennials, the current political environment may have a similar effect on the attitudes and engagement of Gen Z, though how remains a question. As important as today’s news may seem, it is more than likely that the technologies, debates and events that will shape Generation Z are still yet to be known.

We look forward to spending the next few years studying this generation as it enters adulthood. All the while, we’ll keep in mind that generations are a lens through which to understand societal change, rather than a label with which to oversimplify differences between groups.

Note: This is an update of a post that was originally published March 1, 2018, to announce the Center’s adoption of 1996 as an endpoint to births in the Millennial generation.

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Digital Generation: Mechanisms of Socialization and Social Prospects

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what is digital generation essay

  • O. V. Kryshtanovskaya 12 ,
  • Yu. A. Chernavin 12 &
  • I. A. Lavrov 12  

Part of the book series: Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems ((LNNS,volume 398))

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The problem of the emergence of a digital generation representing a new type of personality (Homo Digitalis) is considered. The digital generation, which includes young people up to 35 years old, is distinguished by the peculiarities of socialization and personal development due to the impact of the digital world. When analyzing the processes of socialization, the necessary balance of external formative factors, such as the social environment, and the influencing phenomena of the information environment is considered. Among them, the processes of functioning of virtual reality, digital communication and the network organization of cyberspace act as mechanisms of socialization. At the same time, the driving force behind the assimilation of social experience by the younger generation is its new need – the desire for a permanent presence in the information space. The results of the socialization of the digital generation are contradictory. They are associated both with the strengthening of the qualities of a creative and free personality, and with the problems of weakening social subjectivity. The analysis of empirical data obtained during the study of the political career of representatives of generation Y allows to point out the dominance of the first, essentially positive trend in modern Russia.

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The work was carried out on the basis of the research data “The main trends in the formation of the managerial elite of Russia 2019–2030” and “Social elevators in Russian politics”, carried out with the financial support of the RFBR and ANO EISI within the framework of scientific projects No. 19-011-31467 and No. 20-011-31707.

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Kryshtanovskaya, O.V., Chernavin, Y., Lavrov, I.A. (2022). Digital Generation: Mechanisms of Socialization and Social Prospects. In: Ashmarina, S.I., Mantulenko, V.V., Vochozka, M. (eds) Proceedings of the International Scientific Conference “Smart Nations: Global Trends In The Digital Economy”. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 398. Springer, Cham.

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What the Heck is Digital Writing and Why Should I Think it’s Important?

What is Digital Writing?

The development of modern technology has challenged educators to rethink what good academic writing is to consist of. As digital environments become more omnipresent in our modern society, the line between traditional academic writing and multi-modal digital writing will continue to blur. While professors of older generations remain bound by the belief that academic writing and writing in digital environments are entirely different entities, the fact remains that the implementation of digital writing in academic curriculums will benefit students living in this modern world.

The multimodality of digital writing makes it inherently difficult to pinpoint a singular definition of this rhetoric that challenges the norms of traditional academic writing. In her article, “ Keeping Up With Digital Writing in the College Classroom ”, Andrea Baer defines digital writing as “writing that is composed-and most often read-through digital environments and tools” (Baer 2013). However, it is clear that digital writing encompasses far more than this simple definition. Baer goes on to discuss how digital writing is wholly multimodal, and how the incorporation of images, video, and audio not only supplements the author’s text, but also “interact with one another to create new meanings and multiple potential interpretations” (Baer 2013).

The definition of digital writing can be expanded further. In her article, “ Consider the Audience ” Jen Rajchel explores the different ways in which writers can manipulate a digital platform to best suit their needs. Rajchel explains digital writing on two levels: “at one level, web writing is about writing on the web: the flexibility as a multimodal piece, the ability to nimbly circulate, and the capacity to create a network of texts. At another level, the practice is about writing for the web and situating ourselves as readers and writers within its evolving architecture” (Rajchel 2014). Rajchel’s piece not only focuses on defining the multimodality of digital writing, but also stresses the importance of online writers to utilize this multimodality to add a critical lens to their arguments and engage an online audience.

Ultimately, the multimodality of digital writing can lead to an incredibly vague definition for what it actually encompasses. In his article “ Digital Rhetoric ”, James Zappen states that digital writing is “an amalgam of more-or-less discrete components rather than a complete and integrated theory in its own right” (Zappen 2005). Zappen explains that the development of digital writing is challenging how traditional writing is composed. In particular, he notes that digital writing is transforming traditional notions of rhetoric as a mode of persuasion into a mode of “testing one’s own ideas, a contesting of others’ ideas, and a collaborative creating of ideas” (Zappen 2005).

Why is Digital Writing Important?

It is clear that digital writing has become incredibly important to the academic experience of this generation, and will continue to be for generations to come. Across the country, professors are modifying their curriculum to prepare students for life after academia. Leigh Wright’s “ Tweet Me A Story ” shows how using the social media application Twitter to supplement traditional learning methods in her journalism class can teach students to quickly and concisely compose their thoughts in order to become part of a social media conversation. In addition to teaching students how to compose thoughts quickly and concisely, Wright utilized Twitter as a way to teach students teach how to develop their voice online for the purpose of writing leads and live tweeting events.

The idea of addressing a particular audience is an important part of how digital writing helps students shape their voice online and develop writing styles that best suit their academic needs. Rajchel stresses the importance of teaching students how to address their online audience and how to determine the appropriate platform to address this audience. She says that students must “be prompted to become critical users who delineate the context, content, and circulation for each platform” (Rajchel 2014), and that it is important to develop an understanding of how to make their writing appealing to their target audience.

In addition to teaching students to create voices and writing styles that best suit the platform they are using to create digital writing, digital writing encourages participation, collaboration, and community building that can extend beyond the classroom. Zappen discusses these ideas in the section of his article regarding the formation of identities and communities, stating that digital communication and writing is not only used to persuade a reader, but also to foster “self-expression for the purpose of exploring individual and group identities and participation and collaboration for the purpose of building communities and shared interests” (Zappen 2005).

Rajchel also discusses how participation and collaboration through digital writing are an important part of the modern academic experience. She compares the skills gained from implementing digital writing into academic curriculum to skills learned in seminar style courses: “reading across disciplines, developing expertise, and delving into discussions. Students learn to challenge each other, but more importantly, themselves” (Rajchel 2014). Online, students learn to compose writing that encourages thoughtful discussion and collaboration of ideas in order to develop their ideas and share them with a given audience.

Leigh Wright’s use of Twitter as part of her class’ curriculum fostered this participation, collaboration, and community building as well. While her live tweeting exercise was designed to develop quick and concise thought by her students, the exercise also allowed students and other members of the Twittersphere to engage in discussion on the event they were covering. This open discussion in turn developed the open lines of communication between other Twitter users and students, and provide a key example of how digital writing can enhance the academic experience of students.

However, despite the fact that digital writing should  be a part of the modern academic experience, there are academics that believe that traditional writing and digital writing cannot coincide within the academic arena. In “ Set in Stone or Set in Motion? ”, authors Hudley and Holbrook give examples of teachers and students who believe that academic writing and writing online are entirely separate, and that the latter should not be a part of a student’s academic experience. In turn, these individuals fail to recognize digital writing as a development of academic writing. The article points out that the inclusion of digital writing in their curriculum merely supplements these traditional learning methods, and that there is no “either/or” dividing the two; traditional academic writing and digital writing should be taught side-by-side (Hundley & Holbrook, 2013).

The goal of these educators (Rajchel, Wright) is still the same of traditional academics: to teach students how to become better writers. While traditional academic writing skills will always be key to academic development of students, the study discussed in Hundley and Holbrook’s article states that teachers like Jen Rajchel and Leigh Wright should recognize the importance of finding ways to utilize digital mediums to make their courses relevant to students of a modern generation. If educators “can embrace the twist of technology while giving students the tools to develop their voice, tone, and unique writing style” (Wright 2013), students will better develop the digital writing skills needed in the modern world.

As a college student living in a world of rapid technological advances, the importance of courses focused on writing in digital mediums has grown exponentially since my arrival on campus. iPads and digital writing platforms have become widely implemented in curriculums across the academic spectrum, and the ability for students to utilize them as an academic tool has become an important part of our learning experience at Dickinson.

As a Policy Management major, a major that focuses on the creation of organizational policies and initiatives, I believe that the college’s decision to implement this technology into students’ learning experiences will be beneficial to the academic experience of students now and in the future. While almost everyone who attends Dickinson has a smart phone or some form of modern technology, the classes that teach students how to manipulate this technology in order to use it productively in an academic setting will provide students more than just a basic understanding of this technology. I see our class as a great example of this. Everyone in our class had a basic understanding of the iPad technology prior to taking this course. However, after learning how to utilize apps like Feedly and WordPress to create and analyze writing in digital environments, students have gained the understanding of how to compose the multimodal literature using the technology that has become commonplace in our modern society. While this class has not necessarily promoted the ideas of quick, concise thought found in “Tweet Me A Story”, this class does encourage students to project a voice that is in accordance with the subject matter discussed in our blogs found in “Consider the Audience”.

I have seen the use of digital writing employed in courses prior to this course. In my freshman year Civil War History course, our teacher assigned weekly 500 word blog posts designed to have students summarize and analyze each week’s readings. While these blog posts were only a supplement to assignments for this course, it still provided me early exposure to digital writing that has helped me throughout my academic career at Dickinson. This experience taught me how to express my ideas and thoughts in a concise manner. In a world where technology has forced us to be straightforward with our ideas (since there is so much information readily available to us), this class taught me how to formulate ideas in a way that allowed the reader to quickly understand the points I was trying to make.

As students like me graduate from college and enter the work force, companies are searching for students that have adapted to and mastered the use of the digital mediums these companies expect employees to use. Companies are rapidly adding divisions within their organizations to focus solely on their social media content and digital marketing strategies, and students with a background in digital writing will be much more appealing to these companies. Students who have had exposure to academic environments of both Rajchel and Wright, who sought to create through their use of Twitter as a means to teach quick though, concise writing, and collaboration, will be far better off than a student who has been subjected to the linear approach of traditional academic writing.

Works Cited

Jen Rajchel, “Consider the Audience,” in Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning , ed. Jack Dougherty and Tennyson O’Donnell (University of Michigan Press/Trinity College ePress edition, 2014), .

Zappen, James P. “Digital Rhetoric: Toward An Integrated Theory.”  Technical Communication Quarterly : 319-25. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.”  Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning . University of Michigan Press at Michigan Publishing. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

Baer, Andrea. “Keeping Up With… Digital Writing in the College Classroom.” 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. .

Hundley, M, & Holbrook, T 2013, ‘Set in Stone or Set in Motion?: Multimodal and Digital Writing With Preservice English Teachers’, Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , 56, 6, pp. 500-509, Education Research Complete, EBSCO host , viewed 28 October 2015.

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DartWrite Digital Portfolio Project

Dartmouth's home for digital writing portfolios

Digital Essay Project (Assignment Example)

Tina Van Kley has asked her Writing 5 students to re-mediate a research essay as what she calls (borrowing from Dan Cohen) a "digital essay." Students radically reshape and rewrite their projects for a public, online audience. They work toward the early drafts by exploring public writing on the web, noticing how the conventions of academic writing are both harnessed and changed in public online writing.  Students draft and complete the project as a single page on their portfolio sites. You can see an example of student work from winter 2019:

Tina has shared a copy of the assignment text as it appeared in a recent class:

Project 3: Digital Essay

Your final project is to adapt your topic and research for Project 2 for a new, broad audience and digital medium, using your Dartmouth WordPress site.

Historian and New Media scholar Dan Cohen defines the digital essay (or – more controversially – “blessay”) as “a manifestation of the convergence of journalism and scholarship in mid-length forms online.” He cites the kind of thoughtful, informed writing found at places like The Atlantic’s website (Links to an external site.), (Links to an external site.), and The New Yorker (Links to an external site.), or hear on NPR shows and podcasts like the investigative pieces on This American Life (Links to an external site.). We will read and listen to examples of such work to discuss the genre and its features. Some characteristics of the digital essay, as developed by Cohen (Links to an external site.):

  • Mid-length: more ambitious than a blog post, less comprehensive than an academic article. Written to the length that is necessary, but no more. If we need to put a number on it, generally 1,000-3,000 words.
  • Informed by academic knowledge and analysis, but doesn’t rub your nose in it.
  • Uses the apparatus of the web more than the apparatus of the academic journal, e.g., links rather than footnotes. Where helpful, uses supplementary evidence from images, audio, and video—elements that are often missing or flattened in print.
  • Expresses expertise but also curiosity. Conclusive, but also suggestive.
  • Written for both specialists and an intelligent general audience. Avoids academic jargon—not to be populist, but rather out of a feeling that avoiding jargon is part of writing well.

Additional characteristics:

  • The writer is often "present" in the piece, via use of first-person pronouns and/or anecdotes.
  • Digital essays look different from traditional academic essays. Rather than titles, they have headlines and sub-headlines that give the motive and/or thesis. Paragraphs are often much shorter, and spacing is used strategically for online consumption, which prioritizes speed, efficiency, and high degree of skim-ability.

As with Projects 1 and 2, Project 3 is argumentative, but the approach taken should be exploratory and questioning, as implied by Cohen’s phrase “conclusive but also suggestive.” The imagined audience is anyone who might find your site in a search related to your topic, i.e., general but willing to read something that would take 45 minutes to an hour to read.

Basic Requirements:

  • Use WordPress site
  • 1,000-3,000 words in length
  • Includes both visual and/or aural content that is integrated with the writing
  • Includes at least 2 primary and at least 3 secondary sources (at least 2 of which should be scholarly)
  •  Is the essay clearly addressed to a broad audience?
  • Does the essay make appropriate use of the digital medium (e.g., includes a/v content, hyperlinks, etc.), or does it look like a typical academic essay copied and pasted onto a web page?
  • Are digital elements (such as video, audio, images, etc.) incorporated effectively into the writing, and captioned, cited, or linked to appropriately?
  • Does the essay identify the most appropriate source materials and methods for researching the topic?
  • Is the essay’s thesis persuasive? Is it supported with convincing evidence and analysis?
  • Is the essay organized, and does it include sufficient background for audiences unfamiliar with the topic?

what is digital generation essay

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Essay on Information Technology in 400 Words

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  • Apr 26, 2024

Essay on Information Technology

Essay on Information Technology: Information Technology is the study of computer systems and telecommunications for storing, retrieving, and transmitting information using the Internet. Today, we rely on information technology to collect and transfer data from and on the internet. Say goodbye to the conventional lifestyle and hello to the realm of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

what is digital generation essay

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Also Read: Essay on Internet

Scientific discoveries have given birth to Information Technology (IT), which has revolutionized our way of living. Sudden developments in technology have given a boost to IT growth, which has changed the entire world. Students are taught online using smartboards, virtual meetings are conducted between countries to enhance diplomatic ties, online surveys are done to spread social awareness, e-commerce platforms are used for online shopping, etc.

Information Technology has made sharing and collecting information at our fingertips easier. We can learn new things with just a click. IT tools have enhanced global communication, through which we can foster economic cooperation and innovation. Almost every business in the world relies on Information Technology for growth and development. The addiction to information technology is thriving throughout the world.

Also Read: Essay on 5G Technology

  • Everyday activities like texting, calling, and video chatting have made communication more efficient.
  • E-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart have become a source of online shopping.
  • E-learning platforms have made education more accessible.
  • The global economy has significantly improved.
  • The healthcare sector has revolutionized with the introduction of Electronic Health Records (EHR) and telemedicine.
  • Local businesses have expanded into global businesses. 
  • Access to any information on the internet in real-time.

Also Read: Essay on Mobile Phone


Apart from the above-mentioned advantages of Information Technology, there are some disadvantages also.

  • Cybersecurity and data breaches are one of the most important issues.
  • There is a digital divide in people having access to information technology.
  • Our over-relying attitude towards the IT sector makes us vulnerable to technical glitches, system failures and cyber-attacks.
  • Excessive use of electronic devices and exposure to screens contribute to health issues.
  • Short lifecycles of electronic devices due to rapid changes in technological developments.
  • Challenges like copyright infringement and intellectual property will rise because of ease in digital reproduction and distribution.
  • Our traditional ways of entertainment have been transformed by online streaming platforms, where we can watch movies and play games online.

The modern world heavily relies on information technology. Indeed, it has fundamentally reshaped our way of living and working, but, we also need to strike a balance between its use and overuse. We must pay attention to the challenges it brings for a sustainable and equitable society.

Also Read: Essay on Technology

Paragraph on Information Technology

Also Read: Essay on Wonder of Science

Short Essay on Information Technology

Check out the short essay on information technology from below:

essay on information technology

Also Read: I Love My India Essay: 100 and 500+ Words in English for School Students

Ans: Information technology is an indispensable part of our lives and has revolutionized the way we connect, work, and live. The IT sector involves the use of computers and electronic gadgets to store, transmit, and retrieve data. In recent year, there has been some rapid changes in the IT sector, which has transformed the world into a global village, where information can be exchanged in real-time across vast distances.

Ans: The IT sector is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. The IT sector includes IT services, e-commerce, the Internet, Software, and Hardware products. IT sector helps boost productivity and efficiency. Computer applications and digital systems have allowed people to perform multiple tasks at a faster rate. IT sector creates new opportunities for everyone; businesses, professionals, and consumers.

Ans: There are four basic concepts of the IT sector: Information security, business software development, computer technical support, and database and network management.

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Home — Essay Samples — Information Science and Technology — Internet — The Impact Of Internet On Younger Generations


The Impact of Internet on Younger Generations

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Published: Feb 8, 2022

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what is digital generation essay


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