Gen Z is getting right what we Millennials got wrong about tech

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If you didn't know already, there's a trend right now among Gen Z to essentially throw out the latest tech in favor of old favorites. Think ditching the latest smartphones for old clamshell beaters, or opting for that retro point-and-shoot camera for their snaps - the first truly digitally native generation is exploring new ways to interact with technology right now.

To me, a millennial, this is totally rad. Some tech journalists may dismiss this new trend as a fad for Luddism, but we've known for years the potential mental health implications of things like heavy social media use or gaming addiction. We're increasingly reliant on technology in our lives, for better or worse, so it's important we think about said implications on society. 

When I read reports that younger people are increasingly eschewing social media I don't initially dismiss it as a fad or fashion choice. Instead, I get excited that the 'younger' generations are thinking about technology more objectively.

I won't lie, however, it's also drawn me into an introspective mood as I think about my own generation's often troubled relationship with technology. Perhaps it's because we're at the start of a new year that I'm reflective, but I can't shake the thought we have a thing or two to learn from Gen Z's increasing tech-skepticism. At the very least, perhaps we can be inspired to appreciate some golden oldies as we navigate the big questions around how technology affects our lives.

The cost of convenience

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(Image credit: Giphy)

Gen Z isn't the first to think objectively about these things but it's interesting that they should do so at such a young age.

Tech is about empowering us - making our lives more convenient - but that convenience has arguably come with a burgeoning cost these past few years. 

Large companies offer all-encompassing ecosystems for everything from quick delivery to cloud storage and high-end hardware. You can literally pay for your groceries, control a household of devices, and order anything you could ever need from a single handheld computer. We live in a truly connected world and it's an amazing thing for sure. It does, however, have drawbacks that cannot be denied.

Monthly subscription payments chip away at our bank balances each month while serious questions have been raised about how big tech handles our personal data in recent years. Nothing, it seems, is free, and if you want that new iPhone you better agree to the terms and conditions buddy.

Now, Gen Z isn't exactly the first to think objectively about these things. Even the creator of the internet wants us to reclaim our data from the tech giants, but it's interesting that they should do so at such a young age. Compared to my own generation, they are much warier heading into their twenties. If I think back to my own teenage years and early twenties, none of us were particularly wary of giants like Facebook; we preferred, instead, to keep our criticism contained to overly narcissistic friends. 

Now? Even if we're wary of social media, we Millenials are fully paid-up members of the system. For many of us, our livelihoods literally depend on some form of social media - especially those working in creative industries. Some of us have over twenty years of online contacts built up that can't be easily replaced, if at all. Even dead people are on FaceBook now.

However, when I talk to people in my own generation about social media usage I’m almost always met with the response: “well, it’s sometimes useful for X” or “my mom likes my pictures” rather than an outright glowing endorsement.

At best, we get lukewarm praise about social media’s ability to empower personal businesses and side hustles, and at worst, a tacit acknowledgment that it’s often a Faustian pact. Millennials are well and truly over the peer pressure they may have initially felt to join these networks over a decade ago, but they're too tied into the system to completely walk away.

The future is bright (or dark)

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(Image credit: Giphy)

Skepticism doesn't have to be cynical or negative; it can be healthy - especially when it comes to our mental health or consumer rights.

Now I know, this is all a massive generalization and based on spurious anecdotal evidence at best. Not all Millenials are grinding away with technology they despise and not all of Gen Z are living carefree with terrible clamshell phones and cameras from 2004 (95% of Gen Z uses social media, after all). The point here is that it's great that people are thinking about technology objectively at a younger age and having the courage to interface with it on their own terms. I think we can learn from that. 

And, even if it's not exactly objective reasoning that drives younger people to pick up that point-and-shoot camera and rather a basic aesthetic choice - does it really matter? The world is a better place when tech is fun, simple to use, and comes without the monthly subscription or niggling thought that your data is being logged. Things don't need to be perfect or absolutely convenient if we simply enjoy using them. 

So, let's pick up some oldies, have some fun, and perhaps better, appreciate what tech can do for us on our own terms. Even if we should in no rush to buy a point-and-shoot camera on eBay perhaps we can appreciate just how far we've come in recent years and maybe how far we still have to go. Skepticism doesn't have to be cynical or negative; it can be healthy - especially when it comes to our mental health or consumer rights.

I have to say, somewhat ironically, however, that I won't be trading my Google Pixel for a vintage Motorola Razr anytime soon. Sometimes these things are just a little bit too convenient.

Alex Whitelock
Deals Editor

Alex is deals editor at TechRadar. With over three years of experience on-site and eight years working in e-commerce, Alex has made it his personal mission to share all his favorite tips, bargains, and deals with our readers here at TechRadar. At work, he specializes in computing, phones, and covering huge sales events like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. Outside of work, you'll find him indulging his keen love of photography and PC gaming, or down at the local climbing gym hanging off boulders far too difficult for his abilities. His editorial bylines also include contributions to T3 and GamesRadar.