Gen Z creates new ways to connect online

Stella Fetherston, Art Editor

Generation Z, born between the years 1996 and 2010, is unique compared to its predecessors, especially when it comes to technology. According to a survey conducted by Common Sense Media, 84 percent of American teenagers have a phone, and 53 percent of children in the United States own a smartphone before they turn 11. 

Teenagers today have been categorized as a demographic by dependence on the internet. And why shouldn’t they be? Generation Z was raised with constant interaction with online entities. From video streaming services to social media outlets, this generation has been undeniably affected by the internet in ways that earlier generations never have.

The generational gap is especially noticeable in social media. Unsurprisingly, teenagers and adults don’t interact with social media the same way. When it comes to social media, Facebook is primarily used by older generations, but other apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok are widely used by teenagers. Despite Instagram and Facebook being owned by the same company, the difference in teenage users is more than noticeable. Facebook was founded in 2004, while Instagram was made in 2010, so in the eyes of the public Instagram is still the newer app. By the time Generation Z could get social media, Facebook had become old news. The culture towards Facebook also generalizes it as an “old person app”; as young people leave Facebook to join other apps, like Instagram, these stereotypes of Facebook are reinforced. Gen Zers can also strengthen their relationships with their peers using social media. With fast communication and rapid access to information, teenagers haven’t had to struggle with the whole “time to wait” thing like other generations have. 

The iPhone has become a bit of a status symbol in the United States, and teenagers haven’t failed to pick up on it. Memes on the internet often poke fun at Android users for the camera quality being pixelated; however, the joke still stems from the belief that Apple makes higher-end products. Even on iMessages, text messages between iPhone users are blue, but the SMS messages from Androids are green. 

This is all well and good until a group chat is made. If not every user has an iPhone, the thread becomes green. People cannot be added or removed from the group chat, and the perks of iMessages, like being able to “heart” a message, are lost. Most teenagers have group chats with their friends, and iMessage’s alienation of Android phones is noticeable. In order to have more control over the group chat, teens might move platforms to apps like Instagram or Snapchat. The iMessaging app remains a fairly powerful status symbol in the eyes of Americans, even if not everyone is using it. 

When it comes to the form of communication, most teenagers would probably prefer a text message to a phone call. In 2012, Pew Internet Research Center released a survey showing that 63 percent of teens sent text messages every day compared to 39 percent of teens who had phone calls every day. A text message is more efficient than calling someone up, and it doesn’t require speaking on the phone. For some teenagers, a phone call is reserved for talking to adults and urgent messages. Some would probably agree that it’s time-consuming and, in certain cases, stressful. Phone calls require faster responses on the spot, while text messages allot some time to think up a response. A text message can be ignored, but unless you’re actively busy, missing a phone call can feel a bit like a crime. People might feel anxiety when being put on the spot, so text messages are much preferred to phone calls. 

Teenagers also use video chatting as a form of hanging out rather than just focused conversations. For older generations this might be a new revelation during COVID-19, when phone calls and video chatting have become more equivalent to real-life interactions. Usually, when talking to another teen, the conversations take place via texting or over a video chat. Phone calls are almost entirely reserved for urgent messages, spam, and adults. 

American teens also prefer some messaging services to others, and these preferences don’t reflect globally on the generation. Certain messaging apps never caught on in the United States because data cost more than SMS messaging apps that came pre-downloaded. So while the rest of the world uses Whatsapp, Americans prefer SMS-messaging apps, like iMessage for iPhones. 

For a lot of members of Generation Z, there is nuance in the way they communicate online. Certain memes require layers upon layers of different contexts, leading to some pretty niche subjects. Everything from the picture used to the sentence structure can be changed to fit a meme format. Without prior understanding, the joke is meaningless, or at least it might be less funny. To convey emotions in text format, reaction photos can be sent in the group chat in place of a real-life response. For Gen Zers, strong emotions can be expressed online without the need for face-to-face interaction. 

Without ever having to transition into a digital world, Generation Z marks the start of an unknown future. From the way we interact to the way we receive information, the constant presence of the internet has impacted us in ways that we can only hope are good.