Who Is Generation Z? This Timeline Reveals It All

How the Internet of Things, Snapchat, and Kickstarter transformed the next generation of workers. This in-depth timeline will help you better understand Generation Z.

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No matter your age, technology is fundamentally re-shaping your behavior and expectations in a way you never thought possible. If technology has changed the way you live and work, imagine how it shaped an entire generation that has used technology as early as one year old.

Total game changer.

The next generation gives us data points into what's next. Understanding who is Generation Z provides the necessary data to influence how a company must recruit, retain, and lead its employees in the future. (Read this to find out the eight ways Generation Z differs from Millennials.)

Rather than focusing on historical events, the below timeline covers how pivotal innovations and culture shifts have transformed Generation Z's view of life and work. Generation Z begins in 1998 and the below provides the necessary context around how the oldest Generation Zers have grown up by charting the fictitious life journey of one individual. Let's call this individual Jennifer Zahn or Jen Z for short--ah, get it?

Who Is Generation Z: A Timeline That Reveals How the 21st Century Shaped Them

1998: Jen Z is born.

Jen Z is raised by tech-savvy Generation X parents and many of her younger Generation Z peers are being raised by the tech-dependent Millennials. In fact, 38 percent of children today who are under two years old have used a mobile device for playing games, watching videos, or other media-related purposes. There was a relatively large technology gap between Millennials and their Baby Boomer parents, but Generation X has shrunk that gap with their Generation Z kids which has only accelerated the tech adoption of Generation Z.

Generation X's independence, survival mentality, and skepticism towards leaders and institutions that they witness rise and fall during their youth will translate into parenting Generation Z with a focus on do-it-yourself mentality, hard work, and being realistic (especially since 62 percent of Generation Z doesn't remember a time before the Great Recession).

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z will approach work with a DIY, work hard, and pragmatic mindset.
  • Innovation Influencer: Parents

2006: Jen Z collaborates globally.

At age 8, Jen Z is an avid gamer which shapes her approach to collaboration. With 66 percent of Generation Z listing gaming as their main hobby, the International Olympic Committee is considering adding pro-gaming as an official sport, and Amazon's $970 million acquisition of the live streaming video platform where viewers watch playthroughs of video games and other gaming-related events, Twitch, confirm the growth and importance of gaming among Generation Z.

Jen Z doesn't think twice about turning on her Xbox, putting on a headset, and gaming alongside people around the world in real time as they strive for an epic Halo win. Because gaming isn't hierarchical, Jen Z grasps the power and ease of virtual collaboration and reaching across borders to create powerful and diverse networks of global talent.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z gravitates towards gamified processes or procedures and are native to global communication and collaboration across virtual platforms.
  • Innovation Influencer: Xbox

2007: Jen Z becomes untethered.

At age 9, Jen Z is given her first cell phone for the primary purpose of safety and logistics. However, she is soon exposed to the new smartphone that mom and dad own. Today, the average age for a child getting their first smartphone is 10.3 years-old. Smartphones mobilized Generation Z to text, socialize, and game on the go.

Also at this time, YouTube is growing in popularity and thanks to the easy to use Flip Video camera, Jen Z is empowered to create and share videos. Three-quarters of Generation Zwatch YouTube at least weekly. YouTube becomes a go-to resource for entertainment, information, and how-tos.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z is a video and mobile-centric generation where their mobile devices serve as the remote control of their lives.
  • Innovation Influencer: Smartphone and YouTube

2008: Jen Z extends her digital communication.

At age 10, Jen Z doesn't meet the age requirements of Facebook but that doesn't stop her from lying about her age in order to create an account and begin communicating with friends. While Millennials helped push social media into the mainstream, Generation Z can't remember a world where social media didn't exist. Today, 39 percent of kids get a social media account at 11.4 years-old.

Millennials were digital pioneers, but Generation Z is the true digital natives. They have not had to adapt to technology because the only world they know is a hyper-connected one where 2 out of 7 people on the planet use Facebook.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z is quick to adopt new communication channels and prefers real-time, transparent, and collaborative digital communications.
  • Innovation Influencer: Facebook

2009: Jen Z benefits from content curation.

At age 11, Jen Z enters middle school with a smart device and the world's information curated into blank search boxes. Jen Z and her peers have become adept researchers and very resourceful due to their early Internet access. In fact, 43% of Generation Z teens prefer a digital approach to learning and find it easiest to learn from the Internet.

Generation Z treats the Internet as their external brain and therefore approach problems in a whole new way, unlike any generation before them. They do not consider parents or teachers as the authority but rather the Internet as the authority.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z wants teachers and managers to not be the sole source of their learning but rather supplement their learning -- coaching them through their questions, mistakes, and successes.
  • Innovation Influencer: Search Engines

2010: Jen Z lives an interconnected life.

At age 12, Jen Z, on a daily basis, utilizes 4-5 screens (mobile, TV, laptop, tablet, or game device). She begins collaborating with peers online inside the classroom (and via Google Docs by 2012), continuing the work on the way home via a smartphone or tablet (Apple releases the first iPad this year), and then finishes her homework on a laptop at home. Generation Z is executing work in unprecedented ways.

Jen Z is becoming increasingly aware of all of the interconnected and "smart" devices (wearables, smart toys, drones, etc.) that impact her life. It's forecasted that 8.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2017, up 31 percent from 2016, and will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. Eventually, Generation Z will live in a world with 1 trillion interconnected devices that will forever re-shape how they live, work, and play.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z has developed a much higher instinctual relationship with technology and the increasingly interconnected world shifts their expectations for how work can and should be executed.
  • Innovation Influencer: iPad and Internet of Things

2012: Jen Z seeks deeper social connections.

At age 14, Jen Z is on Twitter and a power user of the 2010-released social media platform, Instagram. Instagram becomes an immediate hit among Generation Z. Instagram shifts Generation Z's communication preferences towards images, short videos, and a mobile-first approach.

Jen Z is also growing weary of the superficiality she sees throughout social media. By 2014, 25% of Generation Z had quit their parents' and older siblings' social network. To fill the growing desire for a truer to life network, the anonymous social network, Whisper, launches and quickly nets millions of users. Jen Z also prefers Snapchat (launched in 2011) which offers a more real and honest connection for users.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z prioritizes honest, transparent, and authentic messaging from friends, leaders, employers, and brands.
  • Innovation Influencer: Instagram and Snapchat

2013: Jen Z establishes a digital brand.

At age 15, Jen Z discovers the social network and blogging platform, Tumblr, which provides her a global platform to share her ideas, passions, and opinions. Due to the rise in popularity of blogging/vlogging and Apple's App Store (launched in 2008), Jen Z is becoming savvy at building her own digital assets (blog, website, apps, etc.)

Generation Z are creators, contributors, and collaborators. Technology has empowered them to have a voice, to streamline and systemize, and to simplify complex problems because after all, "There's an app for that."

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z expects to co-create with brands, contribute on teams, and collaborate with managers; and they expect innovation from their employers, leaders, and brands.
  • Innovation Influencer: Tumblr and Apple's App Store

2015: Jen Z launches her career early.

At age 17, Jen Z enters the workplace via an internship while a senior in high school. Sixty percent of companies agree that students will need to begin to focus on their careers in high school in order to compete for internships and jobs in the future. No wonder LinkedIn recently decided to lower their minimum age required to create an account to 13.

Jen Z is eager to launch her full-time career but, much like Millennials, expects a short tenure. Eighty-three percent of today's students believe that 3 years or less is the appropriate amount of time to spend at their first job. Generation Z will use Glassdoor.comto make sure the job and employer are the appropriate fit.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z are self-starters, self-learners, and self-motivators seeking swift impact at work.
  • Innovation Influencer: LinkedIn and Glassdoor

2016: Jen Z explores entrepreneurship.

At age 18, Jen Z realizes how easy it can be to become an entrepreneur and turn an idea into reality by creating an account on Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform. The popularity of the show Shark Tank and the seemingly overnight success stories of Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel bring entrepreneurship front and center for Generation Z.

Sixty-one percent of high school students and forty-three percent of college students sad they would rather be an entrepreneur than an employee when they graduate.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z place a premium on entrepreneurship, innovation, and "side hustles."
  • Innovation Influencer: Kickstarter

2017: Jen Z re-wires work.

At age 19, technology continues to impact Jen Z's life and begins to shape her expectations of work.

  • Pokemon Go: Generation Z showed through the record-breaking success of Pokemon Go that they are ready for augmented reality (and soon virtual reality) experiences at work.
  • Snapchat, Instagram, Musical.ly, and GroupMe: Generation Z's expectation of the frequency, medium, and delivery of communications at work has changed.
  • WeWork: Generation Z has widespread availability to workspace and entrepreneurial communities as WeWork expands in seven short years to 218 locations in 53 cities around the world reshaping where and when work gets done.
  • App Store: Generation Z experienced a shift from BYOD (bring your own device) to work to BYOA (bring your own application) as application creation becomes accessible and challenges how work is structured and executed.
  • YouTube: Generation Z grew up on a steady diet of YouTube tutorial videos and will expect innovative workplace learning and development via video.
  • Alexa, Google Home, and Siri: Generation Z is open to integrating more artificial intelligence into their work lives as more and more AI-enabled devices enter their homes and pockets.
  • Houseparty and Activision Blizzard (Call of Duty, Destiny, or World of Warcraft):Generation Z seeks innovative tools and games to connect with peers and colleagues.
  • GoPro: Generation Z is inspired to seek experiences and new adventures (inside and outside of work) since they can capture it all on HD video.

Generation Z's high-tech, ultra-connected, and hyper-social upbringing will make them a different breed of employees, teammates, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z's relationship with technology will re-wire how they show up as workers and consumers.
  • Innovation Influencer: Pokemon Go, Artificial Intelligence, WeWork, AppStore, etc.

2020: JEN Z enters the WORKforce.

At age 22, Jen Z enters the workforce full-time as a member of the most diverse and multi-cultural U.S. generation. As the first truly global generation, a lack of diversity (gender, race, culture, age, etc.) will be a red flag to them. Generation Z understands the value of varying perspectives that diversity brings. Not only do they expect it, they want it.

Generation Z will work, sell, B2B buy, communicate, and ultimately lead differently than previous generations. The leaders who understand the values, expectations and behaviors of Generation Z will be better positioned for next generation success.

  • Generation Z Mindset: Generation Z will leverage the diversity of thought and experience of their generation to create innovative solutions for tomorrow's complex problems.
  • Innovation Influencer: TBD

I help companies better lead, 
engage, train, and sell to Millennials and Generation Z. If you’d like help solving tough generational challenges inside your organization, click here.

This article was originally posted on Ryan's Inc.com column, Next Generation Insights.


Ryan Jenkins



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