Plenty of writers have made hay out of the inscrutable behaviors of millennials—from their desire to kill off department stores to their obsession with chai lattes, Generation Y has borne the brunt of the societal angst of the Gen X-ers and baby boomers that came before them.
But now a new cohort is coming of age. Bookending the generational alphabet, Generation Z is loosely scattered between the beginning of high school and the end of college. Some have entered the workforce already, taking jobs as software developers, marketing gurus, and other jobs that rely heavily on the technological fluency expected of these so-called digital natives.
It should come as no surprise, then, that members of Gen Z—and to a large extent younger millennials—are better positioned than any other group to adopt one technology in particular: blockchain. Gen X-ers and baby boomers, whether frightened by its early association with the Dark Web, complacent with the digital status quo, or simply unable to understand what it is and how it works, are likely to take blockchain opportunities more slowly and conservatively.
Not so for our rising class of innovators.
For them, emerging technologies are the stuff of the present, not the future. For this reason, it is in their hands that blockchain will shift paradigms across industries. Here we take a look at why and how, and consider some implications in the education sector.
The rise of Generation Z
Born between the mid-90s and 2000s, Generation Z grew up as a witness to the struggles of their parents and older siblings. Burdened with student debt and unable to reap rewards from formerly stalwart institutions, Generations X and Y made sacrifices their successors keenly observed.
Forbes reports: “Being in the red for their education affected their ability to buy a home. That’s the kind of thing that affects a person’s childhood.” The lesson of institutional fallibility was learned by Gen Z at a young age.
The capstone to this seminar was the financial collapse of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession. Furthermore, the past few years have been marred by wars, riots, epidemics, and increasingly significant data breaches and natural disasters.
While previous eras had their own shares of difficulty, the catastrophes of today are magnified by hyperconnectivity. But with slumping confidence in most institutions over the course of their lives, there’s a palpable skepticism among our youngest adults.
That doesn’t mean Gen Z is inclined to be cynical. Instead, they have learned to use the tools available to them to take matters into their own hands.
Blockchain: the right tool for the job
Members of Generation Z are creatures of the Information Age. Their air is as thick with wi-fi as oxygen, and it always has been. As such, their evolution has run parallel to the technologies that allow them to flourish. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and 3D printing are all well within the mainstream among Gen Z-ers, but blockchain holds perhaps the greatest potential to resolve their greatest concerns.
Firstly, blockchain is attractive as an alternative store of value. Gen Z sees decentralized networks as a way to hedge against the whims of the traditional marketplace. Central banks and other financial institutions have failed before, as they’re certain to again, and their rhetoric is rarely aligned with reality. Blockchain offers a way for Gen Z to invest using methods they trust to protect their assets as well as their privacy.
Indeed, anonymity is highly prized among Gen Z. TIME Magazine reports that, as compared to their millennial counterparts, Gen Z-ers prefer to use anonymous or self-destructing messaging apps like Blink, BurnNote, and Whisper. 11 million members of that demographic have also left Facebook over the last 8 years and are wary of leaving digital footprints like their over-sharing elders.
“When kids are born in the last 10 years, they have no control over the amount of information that’s available about them online,” says Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer of the Intelligence Group. “The younger they are, the more aware they are of the value of their information.” Blockchain is a viable solution for shifting from a culture of invasiveness to a culture of privacy.
Blockchain also reflects contemporary values in a number of other ways. Major brands have struggled to maintain the loyalty of Gen Z-ers who perceive a lack of authenticity. Young adults are likely to demand that a corporation stands for something, and they trust individual influencers over faceless conglomerates. While blockchain can’t promise a perfect record, much of its fundamental programming encourages the kind of transparency and authenticity that people are starting to crave.
It’s a highly utilitarian technology, too, meaning that it lends itself to multiple functions. Coins and tokens undergirded by smart contracts can provide tailor-made services that young people want, as well as make record-keeping simpler and administrative processes more efficient.
Gen Z has little patience for shoddy platforms and interfaces, and they will quickly jump ship if their needs aren’t being met. From improving crowdfunding to ensuring transparency to evading censorship, blockchain is increasingly regarded as the technological jack-of-all-trades.
Schooling the school with new tech
Generation Z expects good value for their money, and their approach to education is a masterclass in this attitude. They are pragmatic, thinking of college as a utility that produces a job. Making up around 25 percent of the U.S. population and already outnumbering millennials by 1 million, Gen Z-ers view life after college in highly competitive terms. As a result they can scarcely tolerate a waste of time or money.
The result is a generation more inclined to save money, work during college, and graduate early with a fraction of the debt of their predecessors.
To achieve this, Gen Z is flipping tables that have been set for decades with dated china. As a cohort, Gen Z-ers aren’t interested in overpaying for classes and resources that aren’t providing sufficient value and utility. Blockchain, with its ability to tokenize educational credits, allows them to pay only for the education they want and need.
Students today are more open to MOOCs, and OERs are on the rise alongside other non-traditional educational resources. Gen Z-ers reject the notion that overpriced textbooks and companion materials should be par for any course.
Blockchain is an excellent tool for digital rights management regimes that allow students to supplement their educations in ways that work for them. It also empowers teachers to use these same tools to produce groundbreaking educational practices.
From AI to cloud collaboration, classrooms are integrating technologies at a high clip. Chief among them, however, is blockchain. With a catalogue of use cases that grows on a seemingly daily basis, it won’t be long before this emergent technology becomes an intractable feature of the modern educational experience.
LRN is committed to providing all of the fuel that we can, and with Gen Z at the helm, the spaceship is set to blast off.