Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Orange Silicon Valley’s upcoming handbook about GenZ. Watch this blog for more details.
Across New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, GenZ walks on a planet in crisis, for humans and animals, on land and sea and air. Depending on where in the world she is, her progress may be more or less tracked in real time — including capture of her location and even her face. Along the way, she pauses for refreshments that are increasingly complex and present millions of combinatorial ingredients.
Her route home most likely is an urban one, probably congested, digitally augmented, to a lodging that today consumes a shocking percentage of her income; meanwhile, it’s increasingly getting smaller and higher up in the air. But her relationship to “home” is increasingly fluid, as even that most basic symbol of permanence has joined the list of goods and services — music, cars, food, hotels — that can be had on-demand and ready-to-go.
Values that unite
Through it all, she is a strong believer in an improving world. The surveys tell us that for GenZ equal access for all is the way forward — removing the disparities caused by racism or income inequality. Indeed, 3 out of 4 members of the new generation at work feel that Business is on board with her program, that it can be a positive social impact in the world. In a societal framework with a growing number of opposites: centralized versus cryptocurrencies, authentic content versus fake news, and AI’s painted versus real faces. GenZ’s Millennial mentors still prefer full-time employment to freelance or independent, and GenZ’s fiscally conservative bent is at odds with the growing realization that starting a company is the quickest way forward.
Daniela Fernandez and Tiffany Zhong both went that way — Daniela straight out of Georgetown into founding her own NGO, and Tiffany dropping out of UC Berkeley to meet market demand for primary research into GenZ behaviors. Both young women embody another opposite: knowledge about the youth cohort, by the youth cohort. Companies want to know what they know precisely because of their youth, not despite it.
Across the Establishment, whether it’s Government, NGOs, or Big Tech, the power of GenZ’s impact on society is the triple threat of: (1) native crowdfunding, (2) native social and content creation, and (3) the authentic channel to mobilization of youth. What came across loud and clear from the podium of the OSV GenZ Workshop was that GenZ stands united in a full room populated by other cohorts, from Millennials back to Boomers.
Nowhere is our central thesis that GenZ will promote brands and a lifestyle that conforms to its concerns more evident than in the real world of societal systems. Expect GenZ to bring new energy and perspective to the food web, housing, transportation, finance, and climate.
Because GenZ is the first generation of humanity to grow up on the Urban Planet, it becomes clear that the older value systems rooted in accumulating wealth, buying and possessing, and not-in-my-backyard progressivism are obsolete. As Fernandez observed about philanthropy: “GenZ wants to do something now — not waiting until it’s made its pile and retired.” It makes so much sense when she says it that way; after all, we may not have that much time.
What’s even more encouraging is the web of mutual support that GenZ is both inheriting and adapting from Millennials — the social payments platform Venmo is a good example. Built in New York in 2009 during the Great Recession, exec Jay Parekh describes the problem it solves as “How do I just ask friends for money?” To cast it in the rich nuances of GenZ’s interdependent and self-sufficient frame, Venmo allows GenZ users to sponsor each other’s social activity by micro-lending to each other. While micro-lending has been with us a long time, doing it on a mobile app, in public, and with emojis, lies on the same continuum as live-streaming and Instagramming yourself.
The GenZ city
This idea of sharing economy platforms as intrinsic to GenZ’s journey is reflected in the way she moves through the city. Omar Toro-Vaca is an architect trained in public policy, and his narrative, titled “GenZ: Welcome to Your Playground,” both reclaims the visionary architects of the ‘60s and previews the street-as-party-zone of creative cities liberated from the tyranny of car-filled streets.
That’s very much the focus of transportation planners in the climate-stressed event horizon for GenZ cities. Alex Sweet is an urban mobility planning expert, and is warning us off from a simple shift from single-person cars to self-driving, single-occupancy cars (AVs). Done right, Sweet sees billions of square feet of parking liberated for re-use by bicycles and shared AVs. Sweet is clear on what is best — “active transportation,” be it bikes, skateboards, or walking, would contribute to humanity’s well-being.
Speaking of getting out there, Allison Arieff is an urbanism expert who writes for The New York Times. Already evident in the impact of Millennials on the urban environment, Arieff expressed concern that the “on-demand and delivery of everything” is keeping us indoors, apart, and is corrosive of a sense of community, local commerce, and even family.
With their new blend of the intensely personal digital and the natively public persona, GenZ innovations in the world — everything from rooftop urban farming, to autonomous vehicles that double as living spaces — will emphasize a collective benefit that takes us to a more adaptive tomorrow.