By Alex Strang, Insights Editor, Canvas8
While Millennials and Boomers wander through online spaces with Instagram accounts and Facebook profiles offering up extensive details about their lives, Gen Z is far more likely to be lurking in the digital shadows, hidden behind avatars and obtuse usernames.
Gen Z is picking and choosing which parts (if any) to share. It is a generation that’s intent on allowing for a degree of plurality when it comes to self-expression, changing their behaviour, their vibe, and even themselves entirely, based on each individual platform they are using.
“For Gen Zers, who they are today is not necessarily who they will want to be when they wake up tomorrow, and if that does shift, they won’t think twice about completely upending their [online] identity,” explains Casey Lewis, a New York City-based consultant who runs After School, a newsletter on Gen Z trends.
Gen Z has watched older generations play their entire lives out online and seen them suffer as a result.
“Gen Yers made their jobs central to their identities, this is absolutely not the case for Gen Zers. I’ve worked with Gen Zers who are not willing to associate themselves with their workplace publicly,” says Lewis.
Cancellations, walk-backs, and data privacy issues have made Gen Z a generation that is less likely to present a truthful or consistent representation of themselves, but to instead create platform-based personalities that are flexible and fluid.
As a result, Gen Z is moving away from legacy social media and towards more niche and siloed platforms where they can express parts of their personality. Leaving behind the performative nature of Facebook updates and Instagram overshares, Gen Z is flocking to platforms such as BeReal, dating app Snack, and Pinterest’s Shuffle.
These platforms are providing a place to create smaller, more niche, communities around shared interests and passions. This is important as 66% of Gen Zers say that communities are created through shared interests and causes, not by factors like economic background.
Likewise, Twitch, Discord, Reddit, and even OnlyFans, are filled with Gen Z users hiding behind opaque usernames and avatars, forgoing real-world identities so that they can explore online spaces in a ‘pseudonymous’ way that’s reminiscent of the wild west days of the Internet.
There is an active rebellion against normative and rehearsed aesthetics from Gen Z – rejecting perfectly planned grids with a preference for more of a chaotic collage vibe. Whether eating downright ‘ugly cakes’, or just buying each other intentionally ugly gifts, Gen Zers are attempting to break from the perfectly polished presentation of online identity.
Gen Z is a generation that has fully embraced bricolage – using whatever comes to hand to build something that is greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, 78% of Gen Z in the US say they should have the ability to define their own identities, without having to subscribe to societal labels. This genre-less generation isn’t wired to have one single personality that is carried across all corners of the online world. Instead, they build, tear down and rebuild ways of presenting themselves that fit best with whatever it is that they are doing, saying, or making at the time.
The generation challenges boundaries of identity by refusing to be pigeonholed while ducking and weaving away from labels and restrictions. Gen Zers instead exist across several plains simultaneously as sometimes entirely different versions of themselves.
Platforms need to adapt and change, allowing Gen Z to express itself freely without fear of being labelled or too rigidly placed within demographics. 33% of Gen Z say they have felt multiple aspects of their identities excluded by a brand’s marketing or messaging. Just as Gen Z is flocking toward more considerate and adaptable social platforms, these preferences will filter out into their purchasing habits, and considering the generation has around $360 billion worth of disposable income, brands should be taking notice.