By Srinath Sridharan
As one from the Boomer generation, I look at the current society with curiosity, for we see the“beta” generation merging into the “meta” generation. The binary between the physical and the digital world is getting diminished, and we constantly (struggle to) navigate both these worlds simultaneously. The Indian demography has more than 65% under the age of 35 years, constituting the digital native generation. This essentially means that the biggest productive workforce in the decades to come would be today’s youngsters. That should account for their “influence” across society, social media, polity, etc. Can technology be used as a socio-developmental tool? Aren’t we (digital non-natives) living in their generation and trying to make rules for their future?
We are in a crucial phase in India where Gig Economy, Millennials & GenZ (GEMZ) play a large role. The gig economy is a free-market system in which businesses work with independent freelancers, as opposed to hiring full-time workers. India’s gig sector is expected to grow to $455 billion by 2024, at a compounded annual growth rate of 17%. A study in 2021 about millennials found that 64% of full-time millennial workers globally want to have at least some participation in the gig workforce. Has the pandemic lockdown and consequent societal behavioural changes hastened this? With millennials moving into mid- to senior-management roles, and GenZ gradually becoming a part of the workforce, we are relearning what constitutes “employment”. But the unasked question is: Does gig working promote flexibility, empowerment and entrepreneurship at work, or is it really a form of opportunistic exploitation?
The younger consumers are also those who have the disposable income and the attitude to spend on consumption, be it vanity products, experiences, house purchase, vehicles, dining, healthcare or self-preservation ideas like spa, salons, etc. This does give rise to newer business models to serve these consumers. Imagine a financier giving EMI option for bridal makeup or botox or Buy Now Pay Later for holidays. Isn’t this instant gratification at extended payment mode ?
Gen-Z (estimated at one-third of the population) choose skills over pay levels, experiences over career, and are reshaping societal norms and concept of corporate etiquette. They are a hypercognitive generation, comfortable with collating various diverse sources of information, with the intersection of virtual and offline experiences. What do our youngsters want ? For starters, they seek experience and exploration, rather than just an experience certificate. They seek memories instead of just getting services. They seek instant joy versus long-term stability. The learnings of the previous generations may not be able to provide context for the GEMZ generation to emulate or even hold their attention. They aspire for everything “better than what they have or don’t have”.
If we use this context and add the complexity of living in a VUCA world, how does one design organisation structures to productively employ the younger generation? The conventional management structures of command won’t work, and modern firms have to move to an impact and accountability framework. How do we learn about their motivation, aspirations, interests and design roles to keep them engaged and empowered, and not feel simply entitled?
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India’s total internet user base, as of January 2022, stood at 658 million, with plenty of room to grow. ‘Jiofication’—the launch of Jio network in 2016 and its subsequent scaled rollout across India—brought in pricing that almost made internet-access an inclusive phenomenon across India. Rural India, which was not spoken to before, woke up to the opportunities of such connectivity.
India has adopted social media smoothly. With over 467 million social network users, India has the second-highest number of social media users in the world. That’s a third of the Indian population using social media. Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp dominate the social media space in India, while, Instagram is also very popular amongst urban youth. The basis of ‘narcissism’ and ‘voyeurism’ works well for social media platforms. ‘What I am doing’ and ‘what is someone else doing’ are both important aspects that they offer with much economic success. Our millennials and GenZ are the most active social media users. Potentially, internet access and social media platforms offer them opportunities for learning, articulating and experimenting with news ideas and creativity, networking with online communities of interest, online business & accessing (newer) markets and services.
Youngsters use social media to have fun, share interests, explore their own multiple identities and develop relationships with family. However, different segments of social media users use it differently. Digitally-savvy millennials in India post Stories on Instagram, share memes on Facebook, watch videos on YouTube, post opinions on Twitter, and chat with each other on Facebook Messenger. For older Indians, WhatsApp is the ultimate social network! Pictures and selfies from your recent holiday will not go onto FB or Insta. Videos don’t go on YouTube, and jokes and smart statements don’t go on Twitter. WhatsApp is an extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions ! Conversations range from mindless interactions to mindful intimacy. We inform, without engaging.
So any communication with the youngsters, be it from the organisations they work in or with, or the communities they are part of, have to factor these in. It is important that businesses learn how newer digital modes of interaction affect socialisation habits in general.
Social media offers opportunities for the youth to connect to the world, to express their opinions without inhibitions, and to learn more. Even though social media platforms ‘connect’ more number of people, they still seems to increase the feeling of ‘isolation’. It reduces the number of face-to-face interactions amongst the youth because they normally spend most of their time on these online social platforms. Are those ‘connections’ sustainable & productive ? Is this what we are seeing where corporates are struggling to get youngsters back to office?
The thin dividing line between content-consumer and content-creator is becoming blurred. The key attribute of such a format is that it allows them to converse with their community together as a whole. Where does one draw the line of what is privacy and personal-privacy ?
With these challenges of communication, connectivity, convergence of human interaction and digital interface, the future of businesses needs deeper understanding of GEMZ. If we still haven’t learnt about our youngsters, when will we? For they already dream and desire in digital.
The author is Corporate advisor & independent markets commentator
Twitter : @ssmumbai