We already know that millennials – and the generations that preceded them – could learn a thing or two from Generation Z. According to numerous pieces of research, the demographic du jour, made up of those aged between 13 and 24, is more politically active and engaged, better connected, more gender and sexually fluid, more open about mental health, better at self care, oh, and less likely to smoke and drink alcohol than the rest of us.
All this may be true – a result of social media and socioeconomic and political factors – but rarely do we hear from Gen Z themselves about what influences them. It's usually older journalists and academics who are given the platform to explain and analyse Gen Z's common traits. They're treated as an almost alien species who are "taking over the office" and "transforming" whole industries.
So it makes a welcome change to hear directly from Gen Z in a new mammoth document. “The Irregular Report,” created by the Gen Z-run think tank and studio Irregular Labs, is a 400-page digital tome of insight into the young generation that sheds a light on why certain "people, brands, experiences and systems... are relevant to girl and gender nonconforming Gen Zs around the world." And the potential impact they could have on everything "from political systems and pop stars to retail and religion."
Gen Z is shaping our current culture and the future
"Gen Zs are not mindlessly absorbing these particles of influence," writes cofounder Molly Logan. "They are deliberately selecting them according to what makes them tick. As the trans-youth human rights activist and model, Hunter Schafer, says, Gen Zs are 'curating our own existence' both online and off," adding that, far from being passive participants in another generation's narrative, their generation is shaping our current culture and the future.
The report includes content, comprising articles, images, artwork and videos, created by over 1,200 individual contributors from the think tank's global Gen Z community, and features insight from 500 in-depth interviews conducted late last year. Here are some of the most eye-opening things we learned about Gen Z.
They're the most ruthless cohort yet
Gen Z know what they want and they're not afraid of going after it with "pragmatism and determination", Irregular Labs concludes. "They have no time for things that do not serve them or lack utility. But utility can be something that makes them laugh as much as something that makes them money." But business is business, it's not personal for Gen Z. "Ruthless does not mean unscrupulous or callous. It is much more Darwinian and practical. For anyone trying to reach Gen Zs, be prepared to be embraced, dropped and embraced again."
19-year-old Zineb from Ohio is quoted as asking: "Why would I hate on someone who worked so hard to live out my dream when I can use them for my advantage?” While Elsie, 18, from Oslo, who runs a magazine, said: "I have to be a bit of a double agent, speaking Gen Z but also corporation, because we [Gen Z] need money to run things so we have to milk the cow." You go girl.
They can see through Western-centric narratives
Gen Z are drawn to stories they can relate to, whether they're in the form of movies, TV shows or ad campaigns, says 19-year-old Charlotte from Uganda. "We are smart enough to know when a story is single-sided," she asserts. "We are waiting for movies that celebrate African stories and her people. We want our successes and our tragedies to be broadcast internationally, to show the idiosyncrasies and individual cultures of our countries (yes, Africa is in fact a continent composed of other countries!) around the world."
As such, it's now time for brands and media companies "to step up and help young Africa tell its own stories." For too long, young people have grown up watching and listening to only Western stories, concludes the report.
They're more "authentic" than millennials online
The report doesn't deny that Gen Z are as invested in how they portray themselves on social media as millennials are – but there's a crucial difference. Instagram for Gen Z, for instance, "isn’t as much about how they look, as it is about what they know, believe and do." In other words, millennials focus on their exterior, surface level, while Gen Z care more about substance and authentically getting across their inner lives online.
Sixty-seven percent of Gen Z say being true to their values and beliefs makes a person cool, according to the report, with authenticity being one of their most prized values. "Gen Z's selfies are in the caption, not the picture — or in the tension between flattering selfie and self-deprecating comment that demonstrates their wit, cultural clout, intelligence and authenticity via confessional." Their peers are more likely to respond to their captions rather than the photos themselves.
They know when a brand is being fake woke
As the most woke generation ever, Gen Z can smell when a brand's portrayal of itself as socially conscious and "awake" to current affairs is not genuine. "I don’t need brands to use their ads to tell me that they are ‘woke’ or that their brand is ‘lit.’ The worst. If you are saying it then you aren’t it," says 18-year-old Mimi from San Francisco.
The brands that stand out to them are the ones that "seem to care about people rather than just profit," said 20-year-old Tosin from London. They're not impressed by companies that use young people and concepts like feminism to promote their wares without paying young people or living up to their so-called feminist principles.
Their peers are their biggest influencers
Inspirational members of their own cohort are Gen Z's 'influencers', regardless of whether they've met them in real life or know them personally. People like Willow Smith, Instagram phenomenon and musician on the rise, Dounia Tazi, and Lil B The BasedGod are idolised for their inspirational Instagram captions.
This also explains why Gen Z gravitate towards brands like Glossier, Fenty Beauty, Gucci and Rooki, which have a "higher purpose", unlike brands like Nike, Google and Starbucks, whose ethos is more "let's get this done", the report concludes.