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Today’s teens may be less tech-obsessed than their millennial predecessors

Zachary Crockett / Vox

According to the internet, people in Generation Z — those born in 1996 or later — are tech-obsessed, socially disconnected creatures with the attention span of a lizard.

Forbes describes them as kids who “have never known a world without smartphones and social media,” and who, as a result, “gobble up information quickly” and have no attention span. It is apparently impossible to speak with them, a branding expert told the New York Times last year, unless one “communicates in five words and a big picture.” As Advertising Age posits, “bits and bytes are the new commodity” of Gen Z; everything else is meaningless.

But this may be a bit unfair.

In a recent report on the future of the workplace, the cloud communications firm 8x8 and Koski Research surveyed 1,000 employed Americans who use a computer or phone for work. The results, broken down into the responses of Gen Z (ages 18 to 20), millennials (21 to 35), and Gen X (35 to 50), suggest that Gen Z is not only less tech-obsessed than their millennial predecessors but also more concerned with effectiveness than efficiency.

Gen Z may be less tech-obsessed than marketers think

When asked which devices or tools they currently use, and foresee using five years in the future, Gen Z lagged behind millennials and Gen X in every technological category save for social media.

Notably, only 68 percent of Gen Z imagines using email, compared with 80 percent of millennials and 83 percent of Gen X-ers. They anticipate using computers (desktops and laptops) and tablets far less than either of the older generations, and also put less stock in cloud sharing services like Dropbox and messaging platforms like Slack.

Similarly, Gen Z is less enthusiastic about the future of smart cars, virtual reality, and wearables in the workplace than millennials and Gen X-ers.

While millennials largely believe in the future of screens — laptops, desktops, tablets — Gen Z is less enthusiastic about them. The survey results also show that millennials are more futuristic about workplace technology than Gen Z: 32 percent believe bots will take over their jobs (compared with 29 percent for Gen Z), and 78 percent say accessing data from any device will be necessary (67 percent for Gen Z).

This is indicative of a larger point: Gen Z isn’t as militant about saving time as the millennial generation. According to these survey results, when working, Gen Z is more inclined to choose tools that are effective than those that are the most efficient.

These attitudes apply not only to the way Gen Z-ers work but also the way they prefer to communicate.

The youngest generation has been referred to by researchers as “friendless,” less likely to convey emotion, and sorely lacking in interpersonal skills. But the 18- to 20-year-olds surveyed here report a preference for in-person communication over digital forms of communication.

Twenty-six percent of Gen Z-ers favor in-person communication, far outpacing millennials (16 percent) and Gen X-ers (15 percent).

The latter two generations seem to vastly prefer email (34 percent for millennials; 39 percent for Gen X), while none of the three generations is too keen on talking over the phone.

“What we’re seeing is that Gen Z is a more balanced generation than people think,” says Enzo Signore, who worked on the survey for 8x8. “They’ve taken the best from both the Gen X and millennial generations: They still value technology, but also recognize that sometimes effectiveness is better than efficiency.”

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