If you thought millennials were dependant on the internet, get ready for Generation Z.
In an in-depth, international study conducted by WP Engine and The Center for Generational Kinetics, 22 percent of Gen Z respondents (people born 1996 -- present) said they couldn't go for more than a single hour without access to the internet.
Considering this generation grew up fully immersed in a world of online technologies, their digital dependency isn't all that surprising, even if it is a bit jarring. It also isn't a huge shock that 62 percent of the study's Gen Z respondents said their primary reason for being online was entertainment, whereas older generations said they look to the Web for information and education.
What I found most intriguing was what the results of the study portend for the future. Five years down the road, the online experience is going to look quite different than it currently does, due in no small part to the affect Gen Z will have in shaping it.
Predictive and Personal
More than any generation before them, Gen Z is adamant about receiving a predictive, personal digital experience focused on convenience. Even though this shift is already apparent in the marketing efforts of the world's leading e-commerce companies, I was surprised at the central role this demand for personalisation and predictive technologies played in our Gen Z respondents' vision of the future.
32 percent of these respondents said they would stop visiting a website if it didn't anticipate what they needed, liked or wanted. 41 percent said they thought websites would soon recognise and adapt to users to create a unique, human-like experience. Gen Z is over 25 percent more likely than Boomers and Gen X to choose a digital world where websites or apps can predict and provide what users need at all times over one where a person is completely anonymous and has to make multiple manual selections.
Authenticity Is Paramount
At the same time, authenticity was prioritized by more Gen Z respondents (41 percent) than any other demographic. It was clear that while this group is willing to give up some of their own information in exchange for more personalised experiences, knowing those interactions are real and authenticated is highly importance.
While this may seem difficult to reconcile with their less-than-rigorous attitude towards security, our Gen Z respondents seemed to view technology as the primary way to ensure this authenticity, be it on social networking or dating sites, or elsewhere.
Technology: The Great Connector
42 percent of the study's respondents said they believed everything, from clocks to all types of appliances, would soon be connected to the Internet. These connected devices will play a huge role in how everyone -- not just Gen Z -- interacts with the Web as well as realizing the expectation that our experiences are highly personalised. It's also where voice technologies will continue to play a larger role.
One of the only places we saw consistency across the different generations polled was when they were asked about the prevalence of voice technologies in the future. Each group said they believe that using only one's voice to access the internet would likely increase dramatically over the next five years.
When voice technologies (and gestures) are used for digital interactions, websites will be able to incorporate emotional cues in the information users provide. This points directly to the personalised, predictive world Gen Z is shaping for itself and others.
When the information they provide is combined with the use of predictive algorithms, new possibilities arise in which the digital experience is tailored to each user, based on these cues and inputs. It means websites in the near future won't just have a single, static web page, but potentially billions of them -- and each one will be as distinct and unique as the user experiencing it.
On to the Next Frontier
From anticipating the needs of users to connecting to household devices to accessing and interacting in new and different ways, the future of digital experiences will likely see an extreme overlap between users' personal preferences and the online world.
Little of what we consider ubiquitous technology today is expected to be around in five years, namely because it will be replaced by newer capabilities such as voice recognition, gestures, movements, and prediction.
With massive amounts of buying power and a huge influence over family spend, Gen Z will be driving much of this change. I'm excited for what this shift to more personalisation means as it continues to influence the digital experiences of the future.
Want to hear more? Make sure and check out Take My Word For It , a Lovie Talk hosted by WP Engine that will examine how the rise of voice technology makes the world faster and more convenient, but may also be distorting our perception of reality.
Fabio Torlini, MD EMEA, WP Engine