Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Generation Z: How are we revolutionizing communication?

Generation Z (AKA the 'Net Generation', 'Generation I', or the 'Internet Generation') is generally defined as the group of people born in the 1990's and early 2000's, more specifically anyone born after the fall of the Soviet Union. This generation's markers consist of the complete reliance on social media, electronics, and a focus on individuality. My interest in this subject has increased with the rising debate about communication techniques used by my generation, and how they will affect the future of our entire culture. Are we degrading the art of communication? Or are we progressing towards positive advances? How will business and education procedures change? All of these questions and my curiosity in this topic in general, arose from a quote from the novel Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen (which I consequently read on my Kindle E-Reader) “When will people learn just because you can make something doesn’t mean you should?” (Gruen pg.102)
As a communication studies major, we are constantly looking at the development of modes of communication; which are rapidly moving away from verbally spoken and formally written word. We learn of new tools every day in the field, and attempt to study their impact on the population. The phenomenon of social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter has created a generation of incredibly exposed teenagers and young adults. These sites and others like them have produced both negative and positive outcomes on individuals and society as a whole, but does one outweigh the other? Just how far will we go to gain information as quickly as possible? Are we overlooking the loss with all of this gain? Along this path of progression, we are forgetting fundamental skills that have previously defined our society. The question is; do we need them?
In pursuit of research on this subject, I came across a woman named Penelope Trunk. Trunk is the CEO of the “career management tool for next-generation professionals” company, Brazen Careerist. She is the author of the bestselling book Brazen Careerist: The new rules for success and she currently owns the most visited career blog on the internet. It was on this blog that I found many entries relating to the very subject I am currently investigating: generational differences. I found several articles of particular interest. The first post I found, and the one that sparked my continued searching through Trunk’s work, was “What Generation Z will be like at work”. This article was the first piece I found that coined “Generation Z”, although I have since found many other sources that I will discuss later. Throughout this piece, Trunk uses her generational thinking studies background (which she references in another post) to analyze the way our generation will behave once it is our turn to rule the working world. She brings to the table four main points: “Generation Z will not be team players”, “Generation Z will be more self-directed”, “Generation Z will process information at lightning speed”, and “Generation Z will be smarter”. In actuality, all of the appointed attributes tie into the same concepts.
Without dispute, our generation is extremely reliant on technology. This is a direct result of our being the first generation to be born in a society already completely immersed in the internet world. Yes, I remember when our computer was almost the size of a desk, but it was still a home computer. My sisters on the other hand, being born in 1983; remember when we obtained our first Mac (complete with the awesome original label). The fact that we have never had to live without relatively instant access to information has significantly changed the way we process it. Before computers and the World Wide Web, in order to find out about something you had to search for it; and I don’t mean type your question into a search bar that will within seconds, return to you more information than you could ever cognize. These days, the print encyclopedias that our parents and older siblings used are a thing of the past. No more buying collections of whole alphabets so you could learn about things that started with more than one letter (I was particularly fond of our seemingly antique encyclopedia when I was little, but we only had ‘T’. I know more about Toucans than anyone should). Now you can simply ‘Google’ anything from Toucans (not that I need to), to Foreign Wars, and soak up the various forms of media information that are presented right at your fingertips. This new way of learning has created a generation of information-seeking sponges. We can surf the web on various “stumbling sites” such as, and access a wide variety of facts, figures, pictures, and videos in virtually any subject. According to Trunk our generation soaks it all up; and quickly at that. In her article she references a report by fifteen-year-old Morgan Stanley intern Matthew Robson, about the way our generation spends our usually-media-related time. This report is an eye-opening view to the priorities we value. It shows the extreme amount of time spent on the internet and our cell phones specifically, which draws back to the changing line of communication. We are in constant contact, but how much of it is actual contact?
Text messaging has become one of the largest offenders to communication. The “short messaging system” forces the sender to communicate their expressions in 160 characters or less, which would be fine if you were making a grocery list reminder, but teens use texting for much more than that. Texting is becoming increasingly more popular to adults and teens alike, but the difference is that adults remember what it was like not to have it. Teens have now become so accustomed to text messaging, that they are losing vital interpersonal communication and writing skills. Psychologist Cecilia Holguin of the University Counseling Center at the University of Texas at El Paso is quoted in an online Boarderzine article “Negative Aspects of Text Messaging; “It does seem people are more comfortable text messaging rather than actually talking with another human. There is no awkwardness or vocal response involved when texting. Young people could virtually say anything through texts and don’t have to commit to engaging into the effects through a vocal conversation” (Holguin qtd. in “Negative Aspects of Text Messaging”).  Although the adverse side is prominent, there are positives to this wireless sensation also. I have found several articles that show the improvement of writing skills since 1990 in students.  This could be due to the increase of email as a medium, but I believe is also due to the constant nature of our new form of communicating; writing, even in its simplest forms.  Although there have been arguments that the fad of shortening words has decreased teens’ spelling ability and word choice, there is more research that says quite the opposite.  The simple act of writing so often, as our new generation does (Facebook wall posts, emails, texts, etc.) has created a sense of comfort with the act.  It is true that technical writing may be on the decline, but isn’t the point of writing to convey feelings and messages?  Who cares if every comma is in its correct spot if the information being distributed is fascinating and genuine?  Well, there is room for perfect grammar and spelling (I shouldn’t scorn it), but the fact is that the more often a person writes, the better they will be at it.  The late “Generartion-‘Y’ers” (late 1980’s-mid 1990’s) and Generation Z’s fascination with sharing their each and every thought over the internet has created a generation of extremely expressive and individualistic people.  This is good and bad, being that yes; it is wonderful we feel so confident in our thoughts and actions, but does the whole world really care what we ate for lunch today? No. 
The negative effects of this technological phenomenon are often discussed, but what about the positive ones?  Well, conclusively I have decided that the easiest way to look at this scenario is not to think in terms of positive and negative, but in terms of change and progression.  Writing is quickly deviating from its inherently scholarly nature to a more natural and general event.  We are constantly writing, which has greatly changed the way we execute the act.  It has become more casual, making it more real.  The writing seen on social networking sites, in emails, on blogs, and almost everywhere else on the internet is not confined to the stuffy outline format that public writing has previously been restricted to.  It has become a free-flowing and honest art form, laden with emotion rather than skill.  Personally, when I am reading text, I pay more regard to the content and mood of the piece, rather than the grammatical and structural aspects.  My view may be a reflection of the “Net Generation’s” and if so, then it is becoming a more universal one.  Trunk discusses this very topic in one of her multitude of posts about Generation Z.  In the post The Internet has created a great generation of writers”, she cites the Stanford Study of Writing conducted by Andrea Lunsford, a writing and rhetoric professor at Stanford University.  To explain this study, Trunk recruits an article from Wired Magazine’s Clive Thomson, in which she references the study to explore the “New Literacy” shift.  As Trunk, Lunsford and Thomson all recognize, the new increase in time spent writing is directly related to communication.  Yes, it may not be face-to-face; but the importance of the written word is just as prominent as the spoken one.  A professional in any field needs to be able to hone skills in spoken and printed word, and our generation is doing just that.  It is not that we are replacing academic writing with this new form of casual writing, we are just adding to the time spent writing initially; therefore avoiding a decrease in the amount of time spent performing physical communication with others.  So now, kids spend more time writing on Facebook than playing video games and watching television; is that a bad thing?  Who’s to say?  However when video games and television were two of the main time consumers for children, adults were worried; just as they are worried now.  Why?  Because this is yet another shift that will affect how this younger generation learns.  Newsflash!  As long as technology advancement is one of the main focuses of our culture (which it is), there will be changes in learning and communication techniques for our children.  Realistically, it is impossible to measure the effect this shift will have until my generation are in the workforce.  So for now, we should take the obviously positive outcomes that have arisen (a growing sense of identity, more active writing, and a self-driven attitude); and use them to make further advancements and refinements in our education system in order to accommodate them.
We as a society have placed ourselves in a delicate situation.  We have an incredible and truly unimaginable amount of power and resource at our fingertips.  This could be a blessing or a curse, depending on what we do with it.  Instead of concerning ourselves with the negative effects this new leap in technological communication could potentially create, we should use this opportunity to advance our society.  We can now share information with mass quantities of people in mere seconds; complete with pictures, videos, and text.  This all-encompassing form of communication has its downsides (as all things do), but in the long-run this revolutionary change could create just that- a revolution.  We can make important causes known and more importantly, garner them a following of informed activists (such as the recent Planned Parenthood event), in order to more efficiently obtain change.  President Obama’s 2008 election campaign was the first in history to use social networking as a medium for communication-and it obviously worked well for him.  The previous generations all have a marker, and this media explosion is ours.  The world has lasted this long, and I honestly don’t think that Facebook will be the demise of it.  My bias leans towards Generation Z, seeing that I am a part of it and contribute daily to the cyber-communication craze.  However, I warn my fellow-Z’ers to keep a wary eye on our practice.  We need to continue down the path of increased writing and mass-communication, without letting our instinctual physical communication slip away.  Just because we spend more time writing, does not mean we should spend less time talking.  Maybe just less time at the mall!  Well, then there is the recession-but that’s a whole other can of worms.  If you don’t know what I’m referring to, just Google it! 


  1. Hi Melissa!

    I'm a comp teacher here at OU, and I stumbled across your blog on what is, to me, a fascinating subject. I love that you brought up the possibility that increased texting is actually making people better writers--this isn't a possibility that is often discussed academically. I think it's funny that so many teachers, at all levels, seem to be very against texting (and I don't just mean texting in class, which I can see being against) and text-speak as a language. Ultimately, texting is written communication. Does it matter if "LOL" becomes standard discourse? I know some teachers who think such a thing would practically be a sign of the apocalypse. I'm not as convinced it's either bad or good, so much as it is a sign of the naturally fluid nature of communication and language. Ultimately, I'm very curious as to how the texting phenomenon will affect our language-use and writing proficiency in the years to come. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read them! Yes, it is an interesting idea that texting may not be the monster it is so often portrayed as. On the other hand, maybe it is! I guess we'll find out one day.