We can boldly call the current generation in their 20s, “Generation Z.” Don’t ask what will follow after Z. These are the first digital natives. They grew up with all technology, which to them is just like air or water. Their greatest companion is technology.
Once they visit your house, the first thing they want is not a glass of water but Wifi password. Digital technology is their DNA.
Other technologies are given a wide berth; even cooking is considered a cardinal sin. They use the phone everywhere, in class, in church, while travelling and even in bed.
They are detached from reality due to spending too much time in the cyberspace. They have no time for other people, including parents and siblings. They are succeeded generation X and Y. Generation X and Y are in their 30s and 40s.
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They got lots of attention of their parents. The age of large families with over 10 children had passed; they were few in the family, which was mostly monogamous. That is why they are free, not bound by traditions. They keep changing jobs, investing is not in their vocabulary, a good life as defined by peers is what they love. And why not, beyond themselves they have no responsibility.
Their money is their money-unlike generation V and W whose money was communal. Generation X and Y love their freedom; they work but hate being supervised.
For the generation in their 50s and 60s, generation V and W respectively, life was full of responsibilities and scarcity was a reality. They had to help bring up their siblings.
They were cheap labour on the farm or fishing or whichever work the parents did. Few had their parents working.
Everyone knew everyone, neighbours, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and even ancestors. They loved school because it was better than home, there was TV for the first time, bread, and leisure. Reading was leisure, better than milking cows or harvesting maize.
Many loved school, particularly high school for the privileges that came with it like wearing shoes and using electric lighting system. I know many Kenyans who used a flush toilet the first time in high school.
Out of this drudgery and early responsibility came the generation that runs the country today, from captains of the industry to businessmen who own empires. And some politicians.
Generation X and Y, found the drudgery gone, thanks to technology from cars to mobile phones.
Generation X and Y were transitional, from the old traditional society where parents never worked and if they did, the man controlled all the money. Now comes generation Z.
One of my great concerns is emotional maturity of generation Z. Unable to interact with each other, how will they perform in the workplace where emotional intelligence and ability to work in teams matter?
My interaction with students a decade ago is different today, let alone my aging. Generation Z can’t sustain a conversation, are easily bored and their attention span is very short.
The evidence of immaturity is rife. Parents now follow on their children’s life in campus to ensure they go to class or do exams. Generation Z is more concerned about what their peers say than their parents or even teachers.
And they seem to believe that the answers to every problem can be found in Google or with an expert. No wonder motivation speaking is one of the fastest growing profession or pseudo-profession in Kenya.
What of their married life? Could intimacy with technology kill real intimacy? A good example. Does generation Z compare their friends with enhanced digital images online? Does that degrade their self esteem? One generation X member says they can always join online dating, chit chatting, sexting, buy toys and of course porn.
How will this generation perform in the work place? Or we should stop worrying because robots will take over?
Some argue poignantly that with time, a subclass of generation Z and beyond will drown in leisure and make -believe world as the really serious men and women make money and control the economies of Kenya and beyond. How many people control the Kenyan economy?
A bigger question is if generation Z is enterprising. They are ingenious. With their money, being their money, they invest in fine things of life from clothes to restaurants.
Some invest online, trading in forex and playing the stock market. Others gamble. Illiquid assets such as land are not their focus.
For generation Z, helping someone is not in their vocabulary. Interestingly, once they need your help, they will bow to any level.
Once they get it, they are gone till they need you next! It does not matter if you are a parent or friend or relatives; more like a petrol station.
Others argue that with time, generation V and W will pass away and what we think as unusual will become the new normal to X, Y and Z.
Looking at the problems in homes, schools, churches and governments may be we need a new beginning with generation A, the first letter of the alphabet. What do you think?
The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi.