Ray Roberts, a 19-year-old student at the University of Oregon, gets together for movie nights with her boyfriend. But they do it from hundreds of miles away (they date long-distance), over Discord (tagline “your place to talk and hang out”), so that he can share films on his screen and call her, all done through the platform.
Besides movie nights, Roberts uses the platform, which might be called one well-populated corner of the metaverse, for gaming and for its chat room capabilities, where she and her friends send each other videos, memes, photos and GIFs.
“I like to talk to people in person,” she says. “If I have the choice, I’d like to have a conversation with them, but you can’t do that safely in Covid. I guess you can Facetime and you can message people and everything, but Discord combines all of that into one accessible space and anyone can join calls at any time.”
Welcome to Gen Z. The most media-heralded generation, the population born between 1997 and 2012 has garnered a reputation for being technologically savvy, politically engaged and highly educated. Most of all, technology comes first.
Here’s a look at four ways Gen Z uses technology to manifest their needs and goals.
Tech to blend sustainability with shopping
Gen Z isn’t the first generation to roundly embrace thrift store shopping, but the motivation is different: used clothes are a sustainable choice. Naturally, for the generation that is said to have learned to swipe before they learned to crawl, that thrift store exploration happens digitally. Poshmark is a popular secondhand clothing app, along with Depop, where a whopping 90% of active users are under the age of 25 and have made changes to become more environmentally friendly in their daily lives, according to a survey by Depop and Bain & Company, with sustainable fashion practices ranking at the top of their list. Gen Z are particularly hooked on Depop because its searchable and taggable interface makes it easy to tap into nostalgic trends like Y2K vintage clothing, as well as shop the closets of Gen Z influencers like Emma Chamberlain and Madison Beer, who are some of the celebrities on the app.
New tech to tap into low-tech nostalgia
Gen Z is the most media-saturated generation, with more access to cutting edge technology than any other generation. Still, they embrace apps that are created to make new devices look older, tapping into the nostalgia of the days of film photos and the iPod classic.The app Huji Cam, which makes iPhone photos look like they were taken on a film camera. Since it launched in 2018, it has been downloaded 600 million times.
In 2019, Cooper Union student (and Gen Zer) Elvin Hu made headlines when he created Rewound, an app that essentially turned the screen of your iPhone into the iPod Classic interface, with a click wheel that included the click sounds of the original Apple device. Apple eventually rejected the app, but not before it was viewed on Twitter 1.8 million times.
The metaverse matters, of course
Facebook, or Meta, may have surprised older generations with its embrace of the metaverse, but Gen Z has been hanging out there for some time. Discord doubled its usage in the past year, now hosting 19 million groups, or servers, for 150 million monthly active users. Roblox similarly delivers huge audiences, with 42.3 million daily active users who spend a total of 100 million hours per day on the platform (see our interview with Roblox chief business officer Craig Donato). And Fortnite, a massive gaming platform with 350 million users who log on to play, talk and create, is said to have “age 14 to 24 as our core.”
Getting financially savvy
According to investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown, 46% of 18- to 34-year-olds have become more interested in investing over the past six months. One in five attributed this newfound enthusiasm to TikTok, where, according to a survey by GoBankingRates, a whopping 34% of Gen Z respondents said they learn about personal finance from TikTok and YouTube, compared to only 23% who reported learning about finances from parents or family.
Financial literacy options abound on popular Gen Z platforms, from TikTok influencers like Breakyourbudget, which breaks down personal finance concepts in 30 seconds, to subreddits like MemeEconomy that predict predicting the latest meme stock to the accessibility of easy stock trading through apps like Robinhood. TikTok draws Gen Z big time: The hashtag #fintok, for example, has a whopping 561.9 million views as of October, and #personalfinance has 4.8 billion views.
There is no question that for Gen Z, tech is fully integrated into their lives. Knowing where they are and what they do matters — but for brands hoping to connect, striking the right note of authenticity is what will most count for success.