Ah yes, the future. An elusive & ominous concept most Gen Zs refer to as a raging dumpster fire. Long ago, the phrase “the future” meant excitement and yearning. It meant getting a license, freedom, getting into college, finally choosing our own path in life. Not anymore. Our excitement of the future disintegrating into fear and defeat can be attributed to a lot of things: environmental collapse, economic uncertainty, political upheaval, pretty much the current horse trough that society is sitting in. A huge factor contributing to our sense of doom, is the future of technology and the questions that come along with it: what happens if the metaverse is fully realized? Will AI art replace the art on the walls of museums? Will cryptocurrency become the standard for financial institutions?
It seems like every day we’re hearing something new about the metaverse, cryptocurrency, NFTs, or AIs making better art than some of us could ever dream of (to clarify, the metaverse here can be described as any online community based in VR, where you have an avatar of your own). I mean, we literally have Chipotle dropping its latest meats in the metaverse. It’s a lot to take in all the time and sometimes it can feel dystopian. At least, that’s what it’s feeling like to a lot of Gen Zs. Sure, there’s a pool of us who are invested in developing apps for the metaverse, or investing in Bitcoin, or even using AI softwares like DALLE-2 to make art. But quite honestly, it’s the minority of us. The rest of us are caught up in a strange liminal space between making fun of a seemingly improbable future by engaging in niches like internetcore or listening to hyperpop, and running like hell as far away from tech as we can. We sit here in this liminal space, knowing very well that no matter which side we choose, the inevitable is coming. It’s just a matter of whether or not we take part in it.
Where does Gen Z stand with tech as it is?
Sarah, a 17 year old from Florida, told us that she’s not using her social media applications nearly as much as she used to. Even going as far to say that she would probably delete some of them in the coming years. Another interviewee, Mira, a 22 year old in NYC said: “I already deleted LinkedIn, I think it’s actually the most toxic social media platform.”. These sentiments reveal a larger movement occurring across Gen Z right now: the Disconnect Movement. Social media cleanse, unplugging, whatever you want to call it, more and more of us are choosing to step off of platforms for a break, or even for good. After years of constant consumption, downloading every social media app that came out, scrolling through endless feeds, and being targeted by various algorithms, some of us are finally starting to feel the burnout from being on social media and engaging with tech in general. As Gen Z has gotten older, social media tech spaces have developed to be at higher levels of manipulation and toxicity every single day – and we’re collectively deciding that we’re over it.
Okay, so we’re pulling back from using tech, but what about knowing about it? Each interviewee stated that they’re not keeping up with tech news unless it comes up through a related interest they’re following. Mira explained that she’s not interested in keeping up with tech in particular because the “tech industry is just another toxic industry”. Mira and Sarah were able to describe the basics of what they knew about topics like the metaverse, cryptocurrency, and AI art, but weren’t really able to go into detail or claim to be a part of any of the communities – proof of how all-encompassing tech has become. It feels almost impossible to keep up when tech is entrenched in everything we know. Dawson, a 22 year old finance student and crypto enthusiast, for example was able to give incredible insight into the Ethereum Merge, but couldn’t speak to engaging with the metaverse or any other future tech. With the hype, it’s impossible not to know the basics of the metaverse, crypto, and maybe some AI art. Everyone and their mothers seem to be flocking to the metaverse to stake some kind of claim and you can’t go a day without hearing about something crazy happening in the crypto world. However, only that small pool of people who are truly engaging in developing the future of technology are regularly in-the-know about what’s going on with things like the metaverse. How is this happening? We’re iGen. We were born with phones in our hands, right? We should be the first to know what’s going on with the next generation of technology that will change our lives. But, we don’t. Because, quite frankly, I don’t think a lot of us care.
What this reveals, contrary to what you may think, is that Gen Z is slowly rolling back on how much tech they’re using in their day to day lives and are increasingly becoming hesitant towards engaging in anything new.
How does Gen Z feel about the future of tech?
It’s honestly hard to get a grasp on how Gen Zs are feeling about the future of technology. I would like to say that people are terrified, totally against it, and are running for cover from the tendrils of big tech. But, I don’t think that’s globally the case. According to various reports, Gen Z already has one foot in the “meta-door”. One source says that about 60% of the metaverse’s user-base are Gen Zs. Another report says 52% of Gen Z gamers feel more like themselves in the metaverse. On the contrary, a survey conducted by Piper Sandler derived that more than half of survey respondents said they “were unsure or had zero intention” of actually buying a headset that would grant them access to the metaverse. Overall, it’s safe to say that the Gen Zs who are truly engaged and vouching for the future of tech are mostly gamers. About 57% (GWI) of Gen Zs report gaming at least monthly. This means that percentage-wise, about half of us are all for the future of tech and the other half doesn’t care or is hesitant towards it.
These insights were reflected by our interviewees on an almost perfect scale. On one side, Mira reported that she will do everything in her power to resist the future of tech and getting on the metaverse. For her, it would take her favorite forms of entertainment (concerts & movies) only being available on the metaverse for her to cave. Sarah, a self-identified gamer, reported that she’s terrified of the future of tech in general, but honestly would love to see how some of her favorite video games would play out in VR. On the other end of the spectrum, Dawson reported that he doesn’t feel hesitation towards the future of tech and actively engages in it now, as he is an active member of the blockchain AND gamer community. It’s important to note that none of our interviewees are actually active on the metaverse right now, bringing to light that even some gamers haven’t made the jump yet.
What does this mean for the future of tech & Gen Z?
No matter how we feel about it, future tech is coming. In fact, most of it is already here. A year ago, we couldn’t imagine a VR headset that could track our eyeballs and allow us to run through menus with just the direction of our eyes. But, that’s here. At the end of the day, the next generation of technology is probably going to operate like a new iPhone drop. You have those of us who swear by our iPhone 8 or 9s and those of us who are lining up outside the Apple store days in advance to get the iPhone 207X Max Pro or whatever number they’re on now. Some of us (probably those with a stake in blockchain, a degree in computer science, or machine learning enthusiasts) are going to be lining up right outside the pearly gates of the metaverse.
The future of tech is coming, but how much it’s going to change the current landscape of our lives is going to be up to Gen Z. We are the ones who are going to have the final say in whether or not the metaverse, cryptocurrency, and AI is going to reach beyond gamers and cryptonerds. New tech can be implemented all it wants, but if there isn’t enough demand for it, it will never be realized to the full extent it was intended to be. If Gen Z doesn’t accept what is coming from tech companies in the coming years, then it might just be more hype than it was worth. So, what do you think? Will you go kicking and screaming into the future? Or will you wear your headset in peace?