Generation Z? More like Generation swipe

A new generation is transforming the way South Africans live, love and play

18 November 2018 - 00:00 By CLAIRE KEETON

'It's almost like I was born with an Apple logo tattooed on my hand. Digital and reality are in sync," says 24-year-old Shweshwe Sello.
Sello is part of Generation Z. Born from 1994 onwards, this generation has much in common with millennials but they don't talk about being "online and offline". They shift seamlessly between them - socialising, learning, earning money, shopping and making the world a better place.
"They said they literally can't live without phones. It would be a catastrophe to be unplugged," says Sello, who interviewed peers this year for a "youth culture" study on Gen Z. The digital Student Village where she works surveyed hundreds of students, from 18 to 24 years old, in Cape Town, Durban and Gauteng online and in their environment.
"Everything they do is for the Gram. They want to showcase Brand Me," Sello says of this generation's obsession with Instagram. Generation Z also cares about being relevant, making money in the gig economy and doing "no harm".
They have less need to own stuff than their parents. Take music, for example; vinyls, CD and iPods are redundant. Why own an iPod if you can stream your favourite tracks from your phone?
"We don't have to own a car when we can use Uber. We can get Netflix and music on our phones," says musician and entrepreneur Siya "Slikour" Metane, a millennial who runs a digital platform connecting youth and brands.
"We are moving from an ownership world to a world of service."
That doesn't mean Gen Z members don't spend money. In SA they spend R32bn per year collectively, says the new report.
"On campus you will see a student with a four-grand pair of Nike Air Jordans," said Student Village CEO Marc Kornberger, of the generation he dubs "Centennials".
Amnesty International worker in Johannesburg, 23-year-old Kylen Govender, says his peers tend to spend money on experiences rather than possessions. "This could range from simply testing out any new pop-up bar that they hear of to saving up for a skydiving birthday. These things are captureable or Instagramable," he says.
"This shift away from the material to what I call 'building up the self' is backed by the large number who are currently, or planning to, further their education."
Gen Z is the most connected, visual and diverse generation yet - having fluid identities, sexualities and jobs.
"It's not as simple as getting a degree and then a job," says Ceallagh Semple, 21, a full-time student who earns money as an au pair and pet/house sitter.
This wave of young people surfs an unpredictable economy constantly being disrupted by technology and artificial intelligence. They are not only mistrustful of older generations but also unlikely to follow in their non-digital footsteps.
"Many of my fourth-year friends are starting websites or businesses, from solar lights to cryptocurrency," she said.
Gen Z members have proved to be creative and do work hard (when not on social media or watching series) with multiple income streams to support their lifestyle and the unique image they want to create. They blog and "influence", DJ, do hair and nails, sell and resell products on the web and trade forex.
At 15 years old Kate, (not her real name), who has about 60,000 followers on Instagram, can earn over R10,000 for a campaign promoting a new app or beauty product.
Authenticity is critical to Gen Z, so Kate must believe in it to be successful.
Kornberger says: "Their fourth-most admired employer is 'Me'. The hustle defines them. They look for hacks and how to do things smarter."
This "live free" generation, born after apartheid, is tuned into its brutal and discriminatory legacy, as the rise of the #FeesMustFall movement has demonstrated. Social media is a platform they use to engage and mobilise.
Govender said: "There is this idea of 'do no harm' that seems to cross-cut into their thinking. They actively work to create safe spaces of support for anybody that may need them. This is done physically to a certain extent but is largely online."
Rhodes University student Camillo Herron, 23, says his generation can talk freely online to people they don't even know, including on Twitter.
"We are the free generation, we can express who we are and are more comfortable about how we feel," he says.
Many Gen Z-ers save money to study, for experiences and to travel.
"They are as much about remembering experiences as popping bottles," Sello says.
Kornberger adds: "They will save to go to the Durban July or a big concert and it's not only the ticket price, they need to look good for Instagram. It's almost like the concert is the platform to showcase their unique brand"
But Gen Z members are not simply about image and seem to be a more "woke" and caring generation than their predecessors.
US academic and author of Generation Z Goes to College Dr Corey Seemiller said: "Gen Z is motivated by making a difference for others rather than recognition and incentives, which have often been associated with millennials."
Education, the environment, human rights and safety are among their concerns and they take this to heart. The rise in veganism is one example of this. Graduate Kine Mokwena-Kessi, who lives at home, says: "I am the only one who recycles at home. My father calls me a 'future person'."
Seemiller says: "This is a hopeful generation, ready and excited to make a difference. Many of them plan to engage in entrepreneurship or create an invention as a way to solve the world's woes.
"They have a preference for having a career that makes them happy, fulfilled and allows them to make a positive impact rather than one that offers a substantial salary or opportunity for advancement."
This doesn't mean they are finding it easy. The American Psychological Association annual stress report this week found they had the "worst mental health" of all the generations. More than 90% reported feeling the physical or emotional symptoms linked to depression and anxiety.
These conditions are also widespread among young South Africans, but unlike previous generations, Gen Z members are more open, including on social media.
US student Corey Smith, 22, said Gen Z members were more likely to be vulnerable and engaged with emotions than older generations. Twitter, for example, has threads allowing people to talk about their insecurities.
Seemiller says Gen Z members tend to be socially liberal and will support issues like same-sex marriage. "They have friends in their inner circles whose [gender and sexual] identities are more fluid," she says.
Members of Gen Z want to stand out and be true to themselves - which is stressful when social media promotes the idea of a curated perfect persona.
Arye Kellman, a millennial and radio personality who runs an influencer agency, said Gen Z members were more purpose-driven and practical than his age group.
"They are most probably going to be the landlords of the millennials," he said.
At the moment, however, many live at home because of high rents and property prices. Mokwena-Kessi says many of her peers, who are first-generation students, cannot afford to leave home, either in Cape Town or London, where she recently interned. Like many of her peers, she has friends around the world with whom she connects online daily for hours.
"We can connect with people all around the world and there are more opportunities than ever before," says Kellman. "Regardless of what generation you are, this is the best time to be alive."
Gen Z (the generation after millennials) and millennials in the US are having sex less often than their parents and grandparents when they were young, a 2017 study led by American psychologist Jean Twenge found. "That's partially because fewer have steady partners," she said.
Gen Z and millennials would forfeit Netflix, coffee, booze and sex to travel for six months, travel company Contiki reports. About half of them use websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp to plan their trips.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.