Ever since Facebook first rolled out its news feed, social media has been pushing for a single goal: boosting engagement at any cost. Now, the cost is clear, as an anti-internet backlash has spurred the rise of digital wellness tools and meditation apps.
Ultimately, though, the internet is too useful to leave behind. We just have to learn how to have a healthy relationship with it. And it's Gen Z — those 24 years old or younger — who have the balance figured out the best.
How Gen Z Finds Balance
A new report out from the social network writing site Wattpad makes the case for Gen Z's embrace of “JOMO,” defined as the joy of missing out, the antithesis of modern social media's FOMO-powered all-you-can-click strategy.
“It’s not about less online time—that’s not an option,” Wattpad sums it up. “It's about navigating which online activities cause them the most stress—and which create a sense of escape.”
And avoiding stress is the big focus for the younger generation: 95% of Gen Z respondents say they are stressed out somewhere between “somewhat” and “very often.” That's a mind-bogglingly high percentage of stressed out teens, and it brings with it a sizable percentage that are focused on mitigating that stress. 59% of Gen Z says they want to improve their mental health by committing to healthier lifestyle habits, and 35% are likely to seek help for mental illness.
When it comes to the internet and healthy life choices, Gen Z has a complicated response. They love screens (screen time makes 59% of them happy) and they don't like to be judged for it. But 53% think they spend too much time online, and 43% actively spend a few hours a day away from all social media.
Good Screens vs. Bad Screens
Being healthy doesn't equate to completely ditching the internet, according to Gen Z.
Popular de-stressing activities that might happen online include listening to music (61%), playing games, or watching YouTube videos. Not included in the “de-stressing” category: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, though naturally offline activities like reading and writing (88%) or exercise (20%) also made the list.
What It Means for Brands
I asked Chris Stefanyk, Head of Brand Partnerships at Wattpad, what this all means for brands trying to stay on the internet in 2019. Will they have to change tactics?
“The research clearly shows that Gen Z is being intentional about the time they are spending online. They are not mindlessly scrolling through a social feed – in fact, 43% are purposely choosing to spend a couple hours away from social media each day. Instead, Gen Z is using time online as a means of self-expression,” Stefanyk tells me, citing their interest in activities like music, reading, or gaming.
“This should alert brands that they need to be investing less time in concepts meant to go ‘viral’ and more in creative content that engages its audiences in a meaningful way. Embracing JOMO means Gen Z may not see – or care – about the latest viral stunt on their social feed. Brands need to take that into consideration and craft thoughtful campaigns in order to reach their target audience.”
In other words, snackable content won't succeed with Gen Z's (slightly) more strict internet diet. The stalwart methods of getting attention online might be on the way out.
Brands with a sharp point of view will likely appeal to Gen Z, given that 65% volunteer regularly and 89% say they'll pay more for “a brand that has a clear/strong brand purpose.”
Granted, There Are a Few Caveats
Gen Z isn't a monolith. As with any generation, Gen Z can be broken down into plenty of smaller demographic categories, whether by race, gender, or class, and Wattpad's report, which is based on three surveys of hundreds of Gen Z Wattpad readers over the past year, can't perfectly represent the group.
And, Gen Zers are currently a pretty small chunk of the internet: One study notes that 15-to 24-year-olds only make up 15% of total internet users.
Still, they're the future. And the future looks more aware of mental health and more dedicated to de-stressing than ever.