Pamela Pavliscak: How Generation Z will reinvent technology

Everyone worried about the kids. Gen Z are being destroyed by phone addiction, right? Well, maybe not…

Pamela Pavliscak is the founder of Change Sciences

WARNING: Live-blogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and howling crimes against grammar and syntax. Post will be updated over the next few days.

This isn’t going to be grim moral panic about the future of the next generation. There is some bad stuff, but once you start looking into this, you find a lot of good stuff.

Pavliscak’s eldest daughter wanted to go shopping to the mall, and she found they way the group of friends documented their trip fascinating. They’re a huge generation - 25% of us are under 17.

Different generations have watched different movies, used different media to watch those films, different sound systems and different bands. Every generation gets stereotyped, but Gen Z are being characterised as super achievers, entrepreneurial types. But they’ve grown up in troubled, uncertain types - and nowhere more so than in technology. They’re spending 25% of their lives in front of screens. 74% are on smartphones - and the majority are mobile first or only. They do everything on their phones. 79% show anxiety when kept away from their devices.

We have a lot if anxiety about them being on their phones. The Atlantic wrote about this recently.

But we shouldn’t - there are some fundamental things we can learn from the way they use technology.

Community

“Kids don’t meet up any more,” is a common complaint. Of course they do. They’re just doing it online. There were sites like Twitch and Club Penguin as they grew up, moving through a variety of social services now. Their communities are global. It’s more than the pen pals of Gen Xers, it’s connection over video chats. They’re joining into adult conversations, via social media.

They’re still interested in forging close ties with their family and friends. And 82% would give up social media friends for real life friends. Real life is still a thing.

We need to design for authentic connection. Not just social media connection, but a strong relationship - the urban design concept of weak ties is important here. Deep meaningful conversations are part of it.

There is dark social, and there is bullying. Anonymity has downsides, and they have learned that.

Identity

Gen Z are experimenting with their identity. We all do this in real life - different personalities for friends, family and work. Gen Z have multiple Instagrams and Finstagrams, and they are constantly monitoring playing around with and pruning their online identity.

We need to think more about this. So much consumer tech is about pinning you down to one personality. Facebook is trying to do that. The latest psychological research into selfhood disputes the idea we even have a core personality. We experiment with identity through storytelling. What we see the kids doing has relevance for all of us.

We need to design for the exponential self.

Privacy

Kids are worried about privacy. One reason for that is that they’re trying to hide from parents and teachers. We did it. They don’t want us to know what they’re doing. 70% admit to hiding activities online. Despite this, they’re a good generation. They’re having less sex, drugs and drink. 81% of kids are trying to figure out privacy settings. They’re hard to figure out.

So… default to privacy. We design for sharing, not privacy. Scale back on the sharing.

Communication

Not only are we texting for everything, Gen Z are early adopters of voice interfaces, and they don’t like e-mails. They’re gravitating towards video chat, especially group video chats. They use images a lot, and are scaling back on words - but there’s still plenty of writing going on.

We tend to look for the cool apps that are coming next. But for Gen Z much of it is about being connected, rather than about the app itself. It’s about conveying a mood.

They are interested in storytelling as much as memory. It’s a blend of physical and digital; they’re not separate states of being for them.

They understand that a walk in the woods without their phone doesn’t actually leave the phone behind, because they’re thinking about the missing photos, the lack of a map. Technology changes how we think. The digital can enhance the physical. They’re not separate experiences.

Design for meaningful participation.

Creativity

Kids get bored, but in a different way than they used to. Their play is about combining off-screen and on-screen. They move between the two. And they make highly creative things with their phones. They WANT to share their stories.

Design for rich experience.

Interfaces

We all assume young kids are great at technology and will know what to do. To some degree that’s true; they spent a lot of time on-screen together, learning together. But you stop doing that in your 20s. Co-use disappears. Because that happens, kids use technology in unusual ways, ways that we didn’t design for. They’re not successful in many of the things they’re doing because of that.

They’re really multi-screening. They use around five screens and know that they are distracted. They delete because they have no storage. They’re using the worst tech in the house.

Practice inclusive design.