We live in a time of uncertainty and change. Profound social disruption, affecting how we work, how we learn or entertain ourselves, as well existential threats to our existence from climate change and environmental degradation, pose challenges to our social fabric as well as our physical and emotional well-being.
These challenges are arguably more keenly felt by younger generations, in particular Generation Z and to a lesser extent, Millennials. Generation Z for instance are struggling with comparatively higher rates of anxiety, depression and mental health conditions. Almost one in three people aged 18-25 years have been diagnosed with a mental health condition compared to just 14.1% of those aged over 50 years old.
Generation Z and Millennials have been born into, grown up with, and are likely to inhabit longer, a world that is changing at an eye-watering pace, disrupting social norms and ‘the way things are done’, throwing up new, often seemingly intractable, problems and generating well-being pressure points that verge on crisis level.
It has become pretty clear that these generations have also taken it upon themselves to find solutions to much of what ails them and the world. Effectively deploying their generation-particular experience and relationship with the internet, data and technology to effect positive change.
Generation Z and Millennials' unique developmental path, attached at the hip, as it were to the internet, has rendered them uniquely educationally, emotionally and ethically equipped to tackle, head-on, many of the challenges facing them and the world.
Much of this capability stems from their seemingly natural and effortless relationship with digital, data and technology, and their inherent ability to use these to effect positive change in their personal lives as well as on the world.
Generation Z in particular are children of the internet, having never known a world without it. What does this mean for their point of view of the world, their approach to problem solving and their values?
In the first place, their view of the world is not, as it is in previous generations, divided in the physical and the digital. On the contrary, digital worlds and physical worlds have blended into one (expected) seamless experience. They are so connected to the web that their identities, their relationships, their passions and self expression are inextricably entwined with it.
They don’t simply view the internet as a source of knowledge and information but (far more importantly to them) as a means of social connection, and everything they do from shopping to learning to hanging out with friends to recreating and to maintaining physical and emotional well-being is done online.
According to a recent study by WPEngine 40% of generation Z can’t go without the internet for more than 4 hours without feeling uncomfortable and over 50% expect the internet to be driving most of their daily decision making within 5 years.
Relationships, that for previous generations, required at least some in-person contact, can for Generation Z, exist solely online - 51% of Generation Z value digital relationships and are friends with someone they only know online.
All these measures far exceed previous generations and demonstrate a comfort level and familiarity with the internet that subsequently provides the means for Generation Z to uniquely seek out solutions and meet needs, express themselves and live their values.
For example, the same study has 74% of Generation Z believing that they can be part of a social movement even if only through social media. And 68% of Generation Z believe that websites will soon talk to each other to offer a seamless experience one to the other and, importantly, in the near future, to provide predictive and highly personalized experiences. Highly personalized and predictive services feature prominently in the expectations of Generation Z interacting with, for example, healthcare providers and related products and services.
Such beliefs and trust in the internet to be the primary vehicle by means of which Generation Z act upon the world is undergirded by two concomitant corollaries of that intertwined relationship - comfort and familiarity with, and knowledge and skill sets in, data and technology.
Ahead of Time
Generation Z are the first generation to be born into the internet but also to grow up completely immersed in technology.
They are, however, more than simply comfortable with data and technology - they don’t merely see data and technology as, for instance tools or means to augment or impact the physical world - something to be deployed to manage life, but rather as an immutable part of life itself, not separate from their existence, but, like the internet, a defining part of it.
And, they are comfortable exchanging data on who they are and what they do - even how they feel, as well as other intimate facets of their personal lives, if they believe what they get in return is of value to them.
The world as a whole belatedly began to embrace technology-led solutions to mitigate the inimical effects of COVID-19 induced social isolation, pivoting to maintaining productivity and work relationships via internet based technologies such as Zoom and for instance, by addressing well-being concerns through telemedicine.
For Generation Z, however, their expectations and behavior were already laid down by the integral role that the internet, digital and, data and technology, played in their lives. Benefits such as ease of access, convenience, social connection, transparency and speed had long been sown in the experience and executions of Generation Z.
When it comes to well-being, for instance, Millennials and Generation Z have adopted digital access to healthcare services at a higher rate than other generations.
According to one study for example, 71% of Millennials want online or app ability to access their personal data such as medical records, schedule appointments and, 74% prefer to access online medical consultations.
And Generation Z, who prefer a mix of online and physical medical consultations, nonetheless, are more likely to use social media and online reviews to make decisions concerning their well-being.
Drawing on their use of the digital world for social connections they seek advice, reviews and referrals from friends and their communities to, for example, choose doctors or providers who are able to provide digital well-being experiences.
Generation Z are more likely than the generations preceding them to use technology for real time monitoring of behavior and to help track their habits - including what they eat, how they sleep, and how they manage their finances and maintain well-being.
Over 40% of Generation Z use wearable technology to track their physical and emotional well-being and then use that data to help make health decisions.
Generation Z are using the internet, social media, and data and technology to help create healthier, happier lives for themselves, as well as to effect positive social change on the world.
Their use of data and technology is radically transforming how we approach some of the central pillars of a rich, happy and rewarding life - work, social interaction, entertainment, creatively and health and well-being.
Increasingly we are turning to the ambitions and competencies of Generation Z and Millennials in the development of technologies for the world to transition to a more sustainable way of living and to ensure the well-being of current and future populations.
It is through leveraging data and technology that Generation Z in particular have been able to push the boundaries of self-care and at the same time provide healthcare and well-being providers with the information to provide better health outcomes.
Arguably, perhaps one of the least obvious benefits effected by Generation Z’s data and technology-focused approach to engaging the world, is its power, when combined with effective storytelling, to spread ideas and inspire action.
And when we think about, for example, what the future of health and well-being looks like, it is increasingly one that is being made in the image of the beliefs, and digital behaviors of Generation Z.