COMMENTARY

Gen Z, technology, and the social media economy

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For those of us straddling the Gen Z/Millenial generational line, technology was slowly integrated into our childhoods and we remember what it was like to grow up without “likes” and “tweets” and viral videos. But younger Gen Zers will never know life without screens.


Recent data draws attention to the prominence of technology in the lives of Gen Z. As of 2018, 95% of teens reported owning a cell phone and 45% described being online “almost constantly.” A major portion of online activity for Gen Z revolves around social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, Facebook, and TikTok.


A survey of my peers found that approximately 62% of college students spent anywhere between 1-2 hours on social media per day, which is in addition to the time they spend in front of screens for homework, research, and online classes. YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook were the most popular platforms (and personally, I’m partial to all three).


But why does Gen Z devote so much time to social media?


Connection is key. Many Gen Zers utilize social media platforms to stay in touch with friends, mentors, and coworkers who they would not otherwise see. Getting periodic updates online with photo and video through Facebook offers a convenience that texting and phone calls omit. And conversations online are low-pressure, with features like Instagram Stories offering quick bites of information that don’t require a substantial time commitment.


Entertainment is also a driving force. Information is abundant on the internet, and one of the most enjoyable ways to learn is through the creative content posted to social media sites like YouTube and TikTok. Funny videos and memes can easily be shared through internal messaging services on social apps and in group chats. Gen Z would rather scroll through social media sites -which offer thousands of entertaining videos, pictures, and mediated human connections - than sit in front of a cable television program for two hours because they perceive the former as adding more value to their lives.


And, demonstrating a growing entrepreneurial spirit, many Gen Zers see social media as an opportunity to showcase their work and grow small business brands. I have friends who use Instagram as an online portfolio to feature their photography, archive their projects, and build relationships with customers. Others loyally share content from small business owners across various platforms, helping their friends build brands online and reach larger audiences.


According to Gen Z, really good things can come from social media.


However, feelings are split when it comes to the overall impact of social media. While many believe it is ultimately beneficial, Gen Zers are also hyper-aware of the negative impact social media can have on them, their friends, their communities, and their world.


Many identify social media as a time-waster. A habitual click into Facebook turns into mindless scrolling and, before they know it, an hour has passed. For some, this addiction works to fill a void or combat loneliness. But it also stirs up a desire for likes and social approval.


Because social media functions as a highlight reel, Gen Z can often feel pressured to look a certain way or project a certain image. Comparison, a trap laid by the visual nature of social media, can result in unrealistic expectations for one’s life, job, friend group, or appearance. And it’s impossible to ever measure up.


My friends often express how social media makes people unloving by stirring up conflict, inciting harsh responses, and rewarding unkind behavior. The spread of hate and misinformation concerns Gen Z, and many see this as the most negative side effect of social media platforms. 


For Gen Z - and every other generation that spends time online - social media is a double-edged sword that requires wisdom and moderation. And the college-aged members of Gen Z are already learning to strike a balance between the positive and negative impact of producing and consuming social media content.


For many Gen Zers, 1-2 hours spent on social media every day is a means of connecting with people, communicating values and truth, and contributing art, information, and beauty to the world. Bringing the social media economy under Gospel-centered kingdom priorities is the lifelong struggle that remains for Gen Z and the older generations of the church who disciple them.



TESSA LANDRUM is a senior at Cedarville University and a Kentucky Baptist who is a member of Unity Baptist Church in Ashland, Ky. She is writing a series of columns on Generation Z for Kentucky Today.

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