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Are Gen Z less tech savvy than previous generations?

Despite being the first ‘digitally native’ generation, studies suggest Gen Z are struggling with tech illiteracy. 

Young people are somewhat synonymous with technology; well, with the smartphone at least. From Facetune to Capcut, Gen Z are well equipped with social-first skills – many of them have even established successful internet careers before they leave school.

But recent studies show that despite being the first ‘digitally native’ generation, Gen Z are struggling to navigate technology beyond social media. They may be able to edit a viral TikTok video, but can young people find their way around humble platforms like Microsoft Excel and Word?

Millennials will remember a time when ‘IT’ classes were a mainstay on the school curriculum. Basic tutorials on the Microsoft suite, and even Photoshop, were relatively commonplace for those born in the 1990s.

But for Gen Z, who were born into a world of sophisticated technology, their learning curve was more focused on optimisation rather than basic platform education.

This idea, that Gen Z don’t need to be taught how to use technology because they were essentially ‘born into it’, has been pinpointed as the main cause of their supposed tech illiteracy.

According to author Jason Dorsey, 73% of Boomers use the internet primarily to access information (compared to 62% of Gen Z), while Gen Z use it mainly for entertainment (72%). 95% of young people also own a smartphone, 83% own a laptop, and 78% own an advanced gaming console.

It’s undeniable, then, that Gen Z are constantly surrounded by technology. But tech dependency is a complex issue. While Dorsey’s research shows that 69% of Gen Z feel uncomfortable after eight hours without internet access, only 22% said they felt stressed if they couldn’t use their phone at work.

This implies that despite living in a tech-driven world, Gen Z are happy to part from their phones when needed.

In fact, the main takeaway from Dorsey’s study was that Gen Z ultimately see their smartphones and other forms of tech as a means of communication and entertainment, rather than a tool for knowledge, education, or career progression.

However, research shows that nearly half (47%) of parents believe their children are more tech savvy than they are. This disparity leads to the assumption that Gen Z don’t need technological education because their knowledge is ‘a given’. And, as a result, many young people are finding it difficult to navigate platforms beyond social media.

Some of these platforms, like Excel and Word for example, are vital for entering the workplace. Even using Outlook to send emails and Powerpoint to communicate through presentations – both tasks that may seem like basic essentials to Millennials – is proving difficult for Gen Z.

‘While students are quite adept at using their cell phones and basic software, they may not be computer fluent,’ said Dr. Gary Insch, professor of management at the University of Toledo.

When they are learning how to use computer platforms, Insch argues that Gen Z are being introduced to the wrong ones, with most students using Google and Gmail suite over Microsoft.

‘Students are learning skills that are not relevant in the business world. Microsoft Office is one of the most desired skills by hiring managers. Most corporations do not run off Chrome OS, create reports in Google Docs, nor begin boardroom presentations on Google Slide.

In fact, recent research has shown that only 15 companies listed in the S&P 500 are using Google’s productivity suite.’

Some netizens are also concerned that the rise of AI technology will accelerate the decline in computer literacy, as basic skills are replaced by tech itself.

More Gen Z workers are worried about the threat of AI than older generations. Around half (51%) of Gen Z have said they feel concerned about being replaced by someone with better generative AI skills.

Another huge issue at the heart of the tech education gap is the fact that the tech platforms we use today were created by older generations.

Adam Garry, senior director of education strategy at Dell, argues that employers are behind in providing new and creative ways to use technology – beyond the traditional workspaces.

‘We focus on providing cool furniture and office spaces, but we aren’t as creative about how to use technology as we could be. […] Workspaces have been created by older generations, while Gen Z is on their phones using TikTok and Instagram.’

Garry is among a number of individuals in the tech sector who are working to bridge the generational education gap. This involves visiting schools to ensure they have the resources needed to adequately educate young people on digital platforms.

‘We’re trying to help schools redefine professional learning so it’s not four times a year, but four times a day. We’re visiting classrooms to make sure educators have what they need, but it’s going to take some time to bridge the gap.’

But it seems the topic of Gen Z’s tech illiteracy isn’t just a concern in professional contexts. The subject has even garnered its own Reddit thread, where users have called out five major causes.

These include the educational system, where schools may have limited access to technology and/or outdated curricula and socioeconomic factors like limited access to technology at home, resulting in a lack of exposure to digital tools.

Underfunding in schools across the board also poses an issue, with teachers’ access to supplies drastically impacting their ability to teach students – particularly when it comes to technology and digital platforms.

Ultimately, journalists Lone Gamble and Georgina Tonic argue that the education issue around tech illiteracy is ‘just unfair [on young people]’.

Parents and teachers don’t provide Gen Z with the right tools because they don’t think they need to. And, without access to the right tools themselves, the problem continues to snowball.