Born after 1980, the first generation of digital natives has hardly known a time before technology disrupted the way people work, play, and form relationships. The internet was first made available to the public in 1991, and within fifteen years, over 97% of Americans were using it. Information became democratized, which completely changed the world; empowering millions, and terrifying their oppressors.
Those who grew up during this time of rapid and unprecedented technological change learned the ‘digital’ language and now speak it as a first language. This digital language has shaped the way the younger generations find and process information. Instead of newspapers, they read blogs. Instead of paperbacks, they read books on tablets. Picking up the phone and placing a call? Who needs that? This generation would rather text, facetime, or in most cases, catch up with their friends and family via social media.
While close to 75% of U.S. adults use social media, primarily Facebook, on a regular basis, the younger cohort of digital natives use multiple social media platforms every day. The younger members are also shaping the way social media conducts itself. While "older" Americans tend to stick to Facebook on the regular, young digital natives are leery of the breaches in privacy Facebook has a reputation for. They are more likely to engage in social media platforms like SnapChat and Instagram Stories, which allow posts to appear for a set timeframe.
Digital natives are also changing the way Americans consume political news and rally around topics they value. Young people are using the power of social media to share their political views and charged ideas, and are using social media to empower grassroots efforts in their communities. They're using social media to invigorate rotary clubs, leading to a resurgence of civic-mindedness in communities around the country.
Digital natives are also fundamentally changing the way the world views work and career. The freelance and gig economy has exploded in recent years, in part due to the digital revolution. Young people are leading this charge, and many cite the flexibility of these working arrangements made possible by technology and telecommuting, such as Slack, Basecamp and Zoom. Also, this generation has coined the term ‘digital nomad;’ a person who travels the world while working online.
While "older" generations may look askance at the way digital natives conduct their working lives and communicate, it indeed is an exciting and super-efficient time to be alive. Digital natives are taking the disruptive, Wild West nature of the digital revolution and taming it. This generation is and will continue, to completely defy and shape societal and economic expectations. Perhaps they’ll be able to use the power of technology to restore the Arctic ice caps before their children inherit the earth.