Passing The Torch: Why Millennials Need To Bridge The Divide And Embrace Gen-Z

Get ready to move over, Millennials. Generation Z is hot on your tail, ready to take your place as the new vogue class.

It’s reasonable to feel slighted in a way. Our run as the harbingers of cultural advancement was short-lived when compared to the tenures of Gen X, Baby Boomers and the GI Generation. In many ways, we can point to our own success in developing and proliferating technology as facilitating the rise of Generation Z.

Still, just because our time atop the throne was brief doesn’t permit us to be resentful. Nor does it mean that we must slip into obsolescence. Rather, we should attempt to better navigate this new age in which generations rise with exponential rapidity.

In order to maintain our relevance, we must show that we are able to adapt more quickly to shifting cultural climates than our predecessors.

To do so, we must examine where Millennials and members of Generation Z diverge from one another, and more importantly, where they come together.

Millennials can recall what life was like before the Internet, cell phones and iTunes. While we benefitted from cultivating our digital literacy as still-developing adolescents and young adults, enabling us to integrate technology into our lives more easily than our parents, we were not born into a digitized world.

Generation Z was born into an interconnected world. A world in which technology was no longer a mere conduit for facilitating social and economic inclusion, but rather the foundation for both.

Their digital education was an integral component of their intellectual development, familiarizing them with technology that it takes on the disposition of appearing to be part of their biological construct.

While Millennials and those in Generation Z share a common love for digital connectivity, it must be acknowledged that they master technological advancements more quickly than we do.

This isn’t a failing on our part. We just need to work harder to keep pace, just as your father did when he proved incapable of shaking the hunt-and-peck typing method in favor of touch-typing.

Ultimately, he was able to figure out how to use Microsoft Word, even if it took him a little longer to get it than it did you.

Speaking of computers, remember the predawn hours before Facebook and Twitter took the world by storm?

Millennials grew up when digital correspondence was still in its infancy. Initially cultivated through one-on-one messaging services like AOL Instant Messenger and email before moving to group platforms like Myspace and Friendster, we helped give rise to the age of social media.

But we still relied on our personal relationships that were first developed in person to build out our digital circles. Generation Z uses these same online social networks to both identify and foster deeper interpersonal ties to people they’ve never met in person.

They don’t resist divulging personal details to broader audiences, as they have little expectation to be able to protect their individual privacy in the age of the Internet. So they celebrate openness and accessibility.

The result is that Generation Z is inclined to be more creative and collaborative, unafraid of speaking their minds.

It is a feature that could serve them well once they come of working age, allowing them to engage in heartier, more productive discussions with colleagues without fear of being judged or ridiculed. They’ve been ridiculed and judged, and learned to just brush it aside.

What we must remember is the fundamental reason generations adopt new practices and approaches to life, like the few I have addressed in this article.

They reflect a society’s essential need to adapt to a changed environment in which prevailing practices become too antiquated to persist.

Generational divides manifest when a new cohort takes charge of driving societal progress. This phenomenon is a product of basic evolutionary theory.

Each new generation’s rudimentary concept of the world is entrenched in what preceding generations considered revolutionary and cutting-edge. To the newcomer generation, those same concepts are just considered the norm.

The inherent irony is that when a new generation comes into adolescence, striving to craft its own legacy in an effort to delineate itself as inimitable, the antecedent vanguard seeks to define them.

Regretfully, whether it be the product of nostalgia or contempt for being demoted to forerunner, these outside attempts to define the neophyte generation tend to air on the side of cynicism over acceptance.

Millennial author and thought leader David D. Burstein explains why generations continually fail to understand one another in his article, “What’s in a Generation?”

“There is an inherent challenge in talking about generations. When we are in the midst of the rise of an influential new generation, it's said that we can't truly understand them and that we must leave it to history to be the judge,” writes Burstein. “Yet, when we get further away from that generation's rise, we are inclined to romanticize, whitewash or otherwise re-imagine their record.”

Other generations have failed to separate their attempts to understand their successors from their inclination to judge them in the context of their own world view; a practice that fosters animosity and greater generational segmentation.

This tendency is apparent even among professed generational experts.

Bruce Tulgan, whose consulting firm published the white paper "Meet Generation Z: The Second Generation Within the Giant Millennial Cohort," demonstrates that failure when he suggests that people born after the turn of the century “simultaneously grew up way too fast and never grew up at all.”

I would be interested to ask Tulgan for his definition of what it means to grow up. Why, in fact, should his concept of the maturation process be considered the prototypical model?

Millennials should strive to buck this trend. Rather than evaluate or judge Generation Z, we should endeavor to understand their motives, interests and values. Not to glorify them, but rather to develop avenues where we can effectively communicate with them.

Despite our differences, there can be harmony. Because generational age spans are more condensed, there exists an opportunity to find more areas of commonality. We should take full advantage of those opportunities.

After all, Generation Z was forged from the world we just helped build.

Top Photo Courtesy: We Heart It