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Coming to terms with generation Z

The New Age

Coming to terms with generation Z

The new Millennial, aka the ‘New African’, as our 28-year-old columnist finds out, is almost a different species of human being. By Winnie Odinga

In my mother’s study rests an ageing DVD player and a geriatric VCR machine. The two machines have both been long retrenched from active use and I stopped noticing their existence ages back – that is, until a few days ago when one of my greatest fears came to fruition: I realised that at 28 years old, I am no longer the ‘younger’ generation. 

“Auntie Kazi,” my nephew asks me, “what’s this?”

“It’s a video cassette player,” I retort quite obviously.

“What does it do?”

The next few minutes are spent with me explaining what a VHS tape is, why it was necessary, why we didn’t just watch things on the phone back in the day, what a landline is, followed up by a 30-minute session of me failing to get my dusty copy of The Sound of Music to play.

It’s interesting for me, a supposedly ‘young African’, to take notice of the changes in the generation immediately following me, sometimes ironically called, ‘the New African’.

Who exactly are the New Africans? They are, one supposes, ‘Millennials’ – a mix of Generations Y and Z. First, let’s clear up some terms. According to the Urban Dictionary (the new generation’s Websters dictionary that offers definitions to words as well as slang terms and colloquial phrases), ‘A Millennial is an identity given to both Generation Y and Generation Z with the primary difference between the two being technology. While Gen Y grew up on personal computers and video games, Gen Z is growing up with tablets, smartphones and apps.’

Although this definition may make the two groups seem similar, the characteristics of socialisation are starkly different. For example, I am generation Y/Z, my siblings and I, as well as our parents used to share one television. I think you may remember that there used be a designated room in the house where the TV was stationed called the TV room.

How many screens do you have in your home today? By the time I was born in 1990, Kenya had two television channels. When we would come home from school, I would get cartoons for 30 mins before my older siblings would boot me out to watch hit music videos. Watching them croon over the newest Hip Hop and R&B stars certainly influenced my musical preferences today.

At 7pm on the dot, the news would begin. You were not allowed to speak during the news; making sudden movements and breathing too loudly was considered criminal and so was leaving the room. This was a family activity. We shared all forms of technology, the VCR, the landline, the newspaper, the PlayStation, the car stereo, the books, the PC, you name it, we shared it, our activities were communal!

Enter the New African. Each parent has a cellphone that each child ‘owns’ at various points of the day. Eventually parents get so tired of wiping sticky sugar prints, squinting through cracked screens and missing important texts and calls that if they can afford it, they end up buying their child their own phone.

Everything on one device

Unlike the generation earlier, Generation Z have all their technology on one device. They don’t wait until 7pm to watch the news; if it popped up on Twitter earlier in the day, then they got it, if it didn’t, then oh well.

The definition of news has also changed. Political news that fills newspaper pages, TV and radio screens is reserved for an ‘older’ demographic. The New African doesn’t have the concentration span, patience or interest to sit through a full news story for days on end.

A corruption scandal pops up: “What’s new?” A visiting Head of State? “I follow him on Instagram.” Launch of a government project? “*Crickets*.” This new Generation is interested in only what they each have tailored their devices to know. Unlike the generation before, they are very individualistic. My father often asks if I caught the political debate on television yesterday evening. I sometimes don’t have the heart to tell him. “No! I was binge-watching 90 Day Fiancé on Hulu. I caught some sentiments of the debate on my timeline and used that to make the opinion I’m giving you at this moment but that’s about it!”

If you asked me for the jab Jay-Z took at Trump in his recent lyrics or what the boys discussed on The Joe Budden Podcast then you’re talking to me.

I have Instagram, my dad has the Arsenal app, it works! My Netflix account is used in three households by four different users. Besides my mother’s and my own profile, my five and 12-year-old nieces each have their own profiles with customised parental guidance levels.

Basically I don’t know what they’re watching and they don’t know what I’m watching. In the car they jam in earphones to listen to what sounds to me like two garbage cans in a wrestling match, while I listen to my podcasts.

You may have employed these people in your places of work and sometimes they may seem less focused but actually they are fantastic multi-taskers. With the cellphone, instant gratification exists at the tips of your fingers. Don’t know what anything means? Google it. Can’t remember who scored a goal in the 1966 World Cup Final? Ask Google.

You feel like an outcast in your neighbourhood? Not a problem, go online and find a community that enjoys your taste anywhere in the world. Parents want you to be a doctor but you love playing the guitar? Do both! Get the degree for your parents and start an artist’s page on social media.

Most New Africans complain that there are no jobs but the truth is there are no appealing jobs. Our concentration is low, our motivation changes daily and our imagination and exposure is like a fantasy.

Millennials finish reports in minutes and spend the next few hours wrapping up quizzes about their favourite celebrities online. A mechanical engineer can also be a graphic designer and marketer.

Absent while present

Millennials are both present and absent. Have you recently used the phrase, “This person lives in their own world?” Well they do! They may be in front of you in person and simultaneously living vicariously through their cellphones.

They value quality of life, diversity and acceptance of individuality higher than any other generation. They do not know a world without the Internet. Waking up at 10am and working on the couch until 10pm with breaks to watch TV shows is a much more motivating and productive work environment than the traditional 8-5 desk job because a ‘comfortable work environment increases output’.

They work fast, they don’t work ‘unnecessarily’ hard because their prerequisite for success is to work smart. So if you’re looking for ways of motivating your young employees, remember the New African doesn’t really care about the success of your business, they’re in there to get some money, and maybe some experience to further their own dreams, so you better start thinking outside the Old African Box if you want to see productivity increase. NA

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