Are We All Part of Generation Z ? Some Thoughts On Privacy, Selfies and Social Media

Are We All Part of Generation Z: Teenagers, “Selfies” and Social Media Intelligenthq

Article written by Paula Newton and Maria Fonseca

Understanding how Generation Z, those that are currently teenagers, use social media is essential to grasp the type of humans beings we will have tomorrow. Gaining this comprehension has been the recent endeavour of a Pew Research report published in 2013. The authors of the report set out to look at the types of information that teenagers share, their use of different kinds of social media sites, their opinions about privacy and their network sizes, among others. The findings show that teenagers are interacting in interesting ways with social media. Pew Research surveyed a total of 802 teenagers to understand patterns and trends.

One of the key differences that was established, and an important point that the Pew Research report highlights as being significant is that:

“Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past”.

That may seem like quite a strange finding, since some might think that social media does not really have much of a past, but in fact the research looked at the differences between the use of social media websites among teens in 2006, compared to that in 2012, and the six years interval has made quite a difference.

Teens were found to be much more likely to post a photo of themselves, and 91% reported that they did this, compared to 79% in the past. Additionally teens were more likely to post their school name, the city or town where they live, their email address and their cell phone number. In the case of the cell phone number the figure had risen from 2% to 20%, and with email address, the figure was 53%, up from 29%. Also, teenagers in 92% of cases post their real name. Particularly useful for marketing purposes, 84% post their interests, 82% post their birth date, and 62% post their relationship status.

What is interesting about this study is how it tends to confirm the assumption that generation Z is not concerned at all neither with issues of privacy nor (counter-intuitively as it might seem) of publicity, as publicity is now something quite easily achieved and shared by many. As Social Media Marketeer Brian Solis writes in a recent post on his website: 

“Privacy for the most part is something that older generations guarded. For most, privacy was and is sacred, worthy of protecting. Publicity on the other hand was almost a luxury. To earn the attention of the masses required investment and strategy. It’s almost the opposite is true among digital natives.”

The report showed that demographics had some bearing on what was shared or not. In particular older teens (14-17 year olds) were found to be significantly more likely to share certain types of content than younger teens (12 and 13 year olds). What they were more likely to share was the photo of themselves, their school name, their relationship status and their phone number. Interestingly, most kinds of data shared by boys and girls were very similar, but with one important exception. Boys were found to be far more likely to share their phone numbers than girls. In terms of race, another interesting difference was found, namely that African American social media using teens are less likely to use their real name on their social media profile. Specifically, 95% of white teens will publish their real name, but this number drops to 77% for African American teenagers.

Of note, focus group discussions that were held with teenagers expressed that teens had “waning enthusiasm” for Facebook. Nonetheless, teens tended to have an average of 300 friends on Facebook, but only 79 followers on Twitter. Teenagers expressed a need to stay on Facebook due to the socialising that it allows for, but they reported stress associated with managing reputations on Facebook and having to continually deal with the drama that occurs on Facebook. Many also did not like the number of adults on the site.

Importantly, on the issue of privacy, it was reported that:

“60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings”.

Girls were found to be more likely to keep access to their profiles restricted, and more than half of the teenagers surveyed had no problems with managing the privacy settings on Facebook. Interestingly for business and moving forward, few teens had any concern about third parties having access to their information on social media websites, and only 9% reported being “very concerned” about this. Younger users were much more likely to be concerned than online teens. Of note, those teens that were concerned about the access of others to their information were considerably more likely to manage their online reputations more carefully.

There are two striking conclusions to be taken from this study. One is how the concept of privacy is being totally transformed, through the hands and behaviours of the younger generation, and the other is how generation z is so interested in self expression. How to interpret these two signs, and as ways to predict the costumer/ citizen of the future ?

Forget about Privacy and Welcome Transparency

Concerning privacy,  the main lesson to be taken is how the online/offline persona is disappearing increasingly. As Solis writes:

“The line that divides online and offline character and image is rapidly, and intentionally, eroding. And for some, it’s completely vanished.”

Generation Z, also called as the digital natives, are thus transforming what we understand by “privacy”, which confirms a similar shift in the overall society, particularly noticeable in the way “privacy” issues are being increasingly addressed through the adoption of the word “transparency”, “trust” and reputation”.

Reinventing the Self Portrait through the “Selfie”

But as Brian Solis notes, when analyzing the Pew report, the study lefts out of the picture how teens increasingly use Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and many other sites, which tend to downplay the “drama” of commentary happening on facebook, rather focusing in self expression and more curated content, specifically tailored to their interests. Some of these new platforms also reintroduce secrecy, as it is the case of snapchat and glimpse.

If self expression and a relentless interest in numbers of likes, followers, and subscribers, can be interpreted as characterizing generation Z as very prone to narcissism, when everyone else is a “celebrity” or a narcissist, the concept of such a “celebrity” totally dependent and contributing to the numbers of others, just vanishes as a sand castle.

In 1999, in a thought provoking article, renowned psychologist Keneth Gregen anticipated the impact of social media technologies, what he called as “technologies of sociation”  in the conception of the “self”. His essay, entitled “self: death by technology” previewed the erosion of individualism, triggered by the effects of the online social connections on the experience/construction of a private self, now to be shaped in a totally different way.

Could we thus understand the “selfie”, massively done by everyone with the ultimate goal of providing the internet world with something upon to “comment and share”, as the vernacular version of that “erosion of the self ” proposed by Gergen ? In the same essay Gergen proposed that as a result of the phenomenon, would arise a “growing consciousness of the self as a commodity”, or a “self” constructed through polyvocality, plasticity, and de-authentication.

What about now, 14 years later?

As many have written, and teenagers give evidence, we are all now becoming part of the connected generation, as we move from being a “self” to making (thus becoming) “selfies”, aware and savvy on managing “polyvocality, plasticity and de-authentication”. It will just be a question of years until teenagers (and the rest of us) will look at the “selfie” with an high doses of laughter and increased “self” awareness on the connected character of our souls.  If so, Generation Z should thus be looked at with optimism.

Lets wait and see.