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Changing Media Models

Posted on May 7, 2024 by FEED Staff

Gen-Z, iPad kids and the changing media landscape

As we welcome a new generation, how will media consumption take shape?

Words by Katie Kasperson

Gone are the days of tape recorders, Walkmans and Nokias. It’s been a while since we’ve talked on corded telephones, adjusted our TV antenna or flipped a record from side A to B.

These behaviours belonged to Baby Boomers and Generation X, with Millennials and Generation Z getting a mere whiff of the analogue world.

But a new generation is here – one that’s characterised by digital technology: Generation Alpha.

We have yet to witness just how much they’ll impact the global media landscape.

Next gen

Instead of going back to the letter A, Gen Alpha’s title borrows from the Greek alphabet, representing a new era altogether.

Coined by Mark McCrindle, a social researcher and head of McCrindle Research, Gen Alpha’s name also reflects its most definitive quality: it’s the first generation of true digital natives.

Born in and after 2010, Gen Alpha has never known a world without digital technology, even from their earliest, most formative years.

Their parents – usually Millennials – provide them with phones, tablets and TV screens as a means of entertainment (can we blame them?), and even their education has been substantially online, thanks in large part to the pandemic.

For this reason, they’re also nicknamed Generation Glass, screenagers and – more derogatorily – iPad kids. 

Due to their familiarity with technology, Gen Alpha is incredibly digitally literate.

That said, this likely means they also have shorter attention spans and impaired social skills compared to older individuals.

Social media is inextricable from their identity, and it’s almost impossible to pry them away from their devices – an especially jarring reality for parents and educators.

With over 2.5 million weekly births, Gen Alpha is on track to becoming the largest generation of all time. “They are more digital, global, mobile, social and visual than any generation before them,” says Ashley Fell, a social researcher and the co-author of Generation Alpha. Soon, they’ll be joining the workforce, attending university and making decisions that impact the wider world.

We’ll likely be seeing the consequences of Gen Alpha’s technological aptitude for years to come.

Created to consume

Like Gen Z (born 1997 to 2010), Gen Alpha is exceedingly active on social media, especially TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, while older adults are more active on Facebook and Twitter (now X).

They tend to stream content rather than purchase it outright, watching video through YouTube and subscription services like Netflix and listening to audio via Spotify or Apple Music.

Because they’ve grown up alongside digital technology, Gen Alphas “are tech-driven consumers, influenced by entertainment media, social media and their peers,” explains Fell. “Interactive and engaging media will be in, and static media will be on the way out for this generation.” She predicts that the metaverse and AI will have a continually growing presence in the global media landscape.

Online gaming is extremely popular with Gen Alpha, with games like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox presenting opportunities to socialise with friends – and make new ones.

According to Business Insider, nearly a quarter of parents said that their Gen Alpha children have friends whom they’ve never met in person.

These games also serve as virtual playgrounds, having “taught this generation creativity, digital skills and that they have something valuable to contribute,” says Fell. “The platforms they have grown up with have defined them as active co-creators rather than passive consumers.”

Besides fostering connections and creativity, these virtual worlds open up a range of commercial avenues for businesses.

Although they may not have their own bank accounts, Gen Alphas do have purchasing power thanks to the digital wallets at their fingertips. “It is very likely that Generation Alpha will never use a physical wallet,” argue McCrindle and Fell.

These behavioural trends provide valuable information to advertisers, who are capitalising on social media marketing – particularly the use of influencers – in-app purchases and personalised ads.

As Generation Alpha grows in its financial potential, we should expect marketing – and shopping – to be exceedingly digital.

That said, young people are increasingly critical of traditional advertising techniques, according to Brad Adgate for Forbes.

Television and radio are arguably irrelevant to Gen Alpha consumers, as they’re seemingly willing to pay for ad-free content. With the introduction of more and more FAST children’s channels, the pendulum might swing backwards; either way, the media landscape is evolving more rapidly than ever – and it’s up to agencies to innovate.

Data-powered politics

With every opportunity comes risk, and unfortunately for Gen Alpha, there are many. Much of today’s media landscape is uncharted territory, especially in terms of regulation.

Online security is one of the largest threats to young people, with little legislation in place to protect minors.

With the rise in deepfakes, big data and a dependence on algorithms, an individual’s integrity is constantly put at risk.

Surveillance capitalism, or the commodification of data to serve a political purpose, is a prime example of this developing digital danger.

It has been well-documented that social media platforms played a role in the 2016 US presidential election – Facebook especially.

Users’ data was collected, analysed and subsequently used against them as political propaganda.

Gen Alpha isn’t yet old enough to vote (at least in the US), but by the time they turn 18, political campaigning could occur entirely online.

Presidential elections changed with the advent of radio – and then television.

It was no longer enough to sound good – you had to look good, too.

Politicians acknowledged this shift, putting new effort into their appearances during televised debates.

Dwight Eisenhower was nicknamed the first ‘TV president’, able to reach his citizens via a box in their living rooms.

Societally, we will always be wrestling with new technology.

With the dawn of social media, presidents took to their devices – and Donald Trump infamously rocked the Twitter-verse by spouting misinformation, arguably inciting domestic terrorism and eventually being (temporarily) banned from the platform.

“In an online world where anyone can publish their unfiltered thoughts, Generation Alpha has the challenge of growing up in an environment where there is a distinct lack of critical thinking,” Fell points out. “And as a result, we need to be teaching them the importance of questioning what they read or view online.” 

Covid kids

Politics aside, digital media touches just about every facet of contemporary life – even more so for Gen Alpha. On an individual level, young people may simultaneously feel connected and isolated.

According to clinical psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, frequent social media use can heighten self-awareness, induce social comparison and feelings of worthlessness.

Alternatively, constant contact with the world around them will lead to a more collaborative, globalised humankind.

During the pandemic, tech companies realised the value of remote solutions, for working, learning or simply staying in touch.

These seem to be here to stay, as community is a higher priority than ever.

For many Gen Alphas, being ‘Covid kids’ (the pandemic comprising a large part of their formative years), the online world has been integral to their upbringing.

We can expect these digital tools to have an increasing presence in education; McCrindle and Fell predict that Gen Alphas will never take a written exam.

Platforms and virtual learning environments like Google Classroom, Zoom and Canvas will likely become invaluable to both students and educators, enabling synchronous and asynchronous course delivery, online essay submissions and digital grade books.

Eventually, schools may even introduce VR headsets or mixed-reality glasses.

Can’t buy me love

The same can be said for working, socialising and even finding a romantic partner.

Dating apps seem to be everywhere these days, but according to Kate Lindsay for Bustle, their ‘golden age’ has come and gone.

Younger generations are tired of the same song and dance, with some opting out altogether.

New platforms continue to pop up which seemingly address every preference (non-monogamy, group dating) and user profile (LGBTQ+, unable to have children, creatives, countryside dwellers).

From apps that are ‘designed to be deleted’, to making profiles ‘text first, selfies second’, users can digitally curate their meet-cutes.

With the eldest Gen Alphas approaching the dating age, it’s unclear how they’ll go about it. What does romance look like to a digital native? Will they have online partners whom they’ve never met? Will dating apps see a rebound or their demise?

It’s ultimately up to developers to decide. Like video games, dating apps are becoming increasingly commercialised.

Users can pay for premium benefits such as unlimited likes or the ability to set any location, making the playing field uneven. The most financially able Gen Alphas may well get the most dates, all else aside.

High hopes

For older folks, the idea of children ageing alongside artificial intelligence, virtual reality and smart devices sounds like science fiction. Ironically, young people won’t think twice about it.

But there is an intangible danger in digitising everything (so long, imperfections and accidents), and the worry largely lies in forgetting our physical world, Ready Player One style.

For those who didn’t grow up with technology – or who haven’t exactly warmed to it – there’s a fear of the unknown at play. How can we protect kids when we don’t even know what they’re up against?

Gen Alpha and its successors will mature into a world that’s filled with uncertainty. Technology is constantly transforming; legislation usually falls behind.

Political turbulence abounds; education is getting a major overhaul. Romance is going digital; some would say it’s dying. “While it’s important to be realistic about the challenges of the future,” begins Fell, “we do a disservice to Gen Alpha by constantly reminding them of these.”

Luckily, information is more accessible than ever, and McCrindle and Fell predict that Gen Alpha will be the most diverse, financially well-off, formally educated group of people to ever exist. “Their future is bright, and like every other generation, they will find the tools they need to thrive in it,” states Fell.
In short: they’ll be fine.

The world is changing, as is the media landscape, but when has that ever been a bad thing?

The feature was first published in the Spring 2024 issue of FEED.

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