Lindsay Mower – Staff Reporter
What makes Generation Z (Gen Z), those born in between 1996 and 2010, different from Millennials, those born between 1977 to 1995, are two major characteristics: they have never lived in a world without the internet (many of them haven’t experienced dial-up) and most of them can only recall September 11, 2001 as a historical event.
As a Gen X’er, born between 1965 and 1976, UMF’s Assistant Dean of Teaching Learning and Assessment Ashley Montgomery says there is an apparent generation gap between her and her Gen Z students, which is brought to light in the classroom.
Montgomery teaches a first-year seminar every fall that examines the anthropological repercussions of technology in the modern world called ‘The Internet of Us’ where, ironically, the discussion revolves around how technology impacts our interactions with each other by altering conversation and social engagement.
“My Generation Z students have grown up with devices in their life, that I did not grow up with, and those devices are such a significant part of how they interact with the world from a very early age,” said Montgomery.
She points out that one of the biggest challenges that she recognizes her Gen Z students facing is struggling with having to make face-to-face interactions with adults. “They aren’t as practiced with thinking out loud. It feels like we have to do a lot of translation,” she Montgomery. She believes this is because the Gen Z population may lack certain processing skills, most likely caused by the impacts technology has had on their childhood development.
Montgomery believes the Gen Z population may not quite see in themselves technology’s dangerous impact on our behavior in conversation, but they do see it in their parents. “They have this dynamic where they think, ‘I need to talk to my mom about something, but she’s on her phone. She says she’s listening to me, but I don’t think she is.’ And maybe the reason they think that is because they know in themselves that if they’re looking at their phone,” says Montgomery. “They aren’t really hearing everything you’re saying. They are giving you distracted attention.”
Another struggle Montgomery says she sees Gen Z students facing is making the adjustment to adulthood. “For many of them the shift of college, the shift away, where they have to create their own structure can be hard for them… It’s something I have seen increasing, she said. “I teach first semester, first year students… They have grown up in a more structured environment, from the outside, from parents and school and after school activities, and they have a lot of expectations, and then suddenly their structure isn’t being artificially imposed from somebody outside of themselves, and that’s a big hurdle for some of these students.”
Senior Outdoor Recreation and Business major Vaughn Keenhold, who has grown up in the Gen Z timeframe, agrees with Montgomery, but naturally sees the whole picture from a slightly different perspective. “I’ve was fortunate to grow up in a time when I didn’t have a cell phone, I didn’t have cable and I didn’t have internet in my house. My parents would bring us to family get togethers and I was always able to talk with adults and hold legitimate conversations with anyone from a young age,” says Keenhold, “however, I can totally see with those around me they while they are engaged in their phones, everything is happening around them, and they are having a harder time engaging with adults because of this.”
Keenhold, a Millennial, also doesn’t believe technology’s effects on social behavior are only affecting the Gen Z population. “I also think that adults now, with social media usage and everything like that, adults are having issues relating to other adults, as well as children, because of the same technology,” says Keenhold. “With Millennials and Generation Z, they just aren’t making the connections and experiences that they would normally be making otherwise, I don’t think it has as much to do with disruption of normal child development.”
Feeling uncomfortable with a lot of the ways that Millennials have been “pigeon-holed” or the way that tern has become a stereotype in the media, Montgomery finds herself waiting to see if Gen Z will be portrayed with a more positive manner. She believes that understanding each other and the differences in place due to these generational differences can help us to learn from each other. “We can use this generation gap as a lense to relate to each other in order to help better navigate the world,” said Montgomery.