A phone buzzes incessantly.
Social media notifications continuously appear.
Tweets are sent and viewed.
Texts conversations happen in a flash of thumbs.
With technology invading every nook and cranny of their lives, Generation Z lives in a different social and media world than their parents did — and some critics say the technology has led to a generation that is emotionally fragile and can’t function effectively in the real world.
Madelynn Ruff, a senior at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, agrees that her generation “takes things too personally.”
But it bothers her that older people don’t understand her generation’s point of view and are quick to criticize Gen Z’s use of technology.
“You would think that growing up with negative feedback, we would become prone to it and block it out,” she said. “But I think it just makes us try harder and then become frustrated when our hard work is misinterpreted by older generations.”
Technology has been the focus of some of Bruce Tulgan’s work on generational differences. Author of the best-selling book “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” and founder of RainmakerThinking in Whitneyville, Connecticut, Tulgan sees technology as a formative influence on Gen Z.
“What makes Gen Z’ers different is that while they were coming of age, there was a tidal wave of information coming at them through technology that was more and more complex,” Tulgan said in an interview. “They learned how to communicate with hand-held super computers attached to their brains.”
Each generation handles the effects of technology differently, Tulgan noted.
“I always say that today’s Gen Z’ers are the ultimate nonconformists in an era of nonconformists. Everybody’s got his or her own style, and everybody’s style has to be respected.”
Social media in particular has a profound effect on how young people relate to one another, according to Tulgan.
“If you are in a virtual network mediated by social media and technology, you are plugged into an infinite number of people whom you don’t really know, and the relationships are different,” he said. “It’s infinite triangulation that people get so attached to the identity they are creating in this virtual ecosystem that they have a very hard time separating their actual identity.
“If it shapes the way you think, learn and communicate, then this in fact becomes central to your sense of self and self-esteem, and it matters a lot. It’s a transformational technology, and the effects have been widely studied. It has an impact on self-esteem and well-being.”
Some members of Gen Z express frustration with generational stereotypes. For example, Madison Moreland, an Anderson University student, believes that her generation is wrongly viewed as “entitled.”
“Some people from my generation do feel entitled,” she said. “But from my own experiences, my generation wants to see a change in the world. We want the world to be great, even if that takes one small step at a time — like using reusable cups and straws to help the environment.
“So no, I don’t think what people say about Gen Z is fair. Every generation can be improved, so hating on just one doesn’t seem right to me at all.”
Eric Erdman, who has taught math at Northrop High School in Fort Wayne for 20 years, said that young people who pay too much attention to how they’re perceived by others may be what leads to Gen Z’s reputation for emotional fragility.
“I notice that they do take things personally,” he said. “There are times when I may tell them that they are doing something that is wrong or inappropriate, and they tend to shut down or give up.”