Generation Z, The Minecraft Generation – Part 2
In Part 1 of this blog series we discussed how Gen Z, what I am calling the Minecraft Generation, are becoming a generation of content creators (story tellers!) rather than just story consumers, like their older brothers and sisters and their parents.
Once upon a time, storytelling and “content creation” were really important parts of childhood. When a child was alone, or a group of children were playing together, they would often create their own narratives. Cowboys and indians, army, playing house, etc. may have been based on templates given to them (war stories their uncle told, movies or books, or just life around them), but the kids would bring it to life themselves. Playacting different roles and perhaps even narrating the plot with a sort of voice in off, they were creating new stories based on these templates. Does anyone doubt that Dickens or the Bronte sisters, or John Ford or Orson Welles got their earliest start in this way?
But in the last several generations this creative aspect of play has gradually become less and less important. Play and leisure time for children has largely become something where stories are told to them. These stories may be linear, as in books, movies, TV, YouTube, etc. or non-linear as in games. But in both cases, linear or non-linear, the narrative is not created by the user/viewer/player but is given to them by the author. (I know, there is a tradition for games that do involve making up stories such as Dungeons and Dragons, but they have always been for a very small minority.) While modern media is truly a wonderful thing, it’s hard to not think that something was also lost.
Could we be seeing a reversal of this trend? Are today’s kids going back to storytelling? Where we, passively or not, have largely unidirectionally received narratives, will this generation be creators of narratives and not just consumers? As mentioned in the first parts of this blog series, it could be that when this generation is dominant in society, the media industry will be almost unrecognizable for us.
And what about the content itself? Would millions of authors from every corner of the world, from all cultures lead to a renaissance, a flourishing of culture and content as never seen before? YouTube content as model would suggest not, it more seems like a race to the bottom. Let’s wait and see on that one…
What is clear is that there is more and more content, and that exponential growth in quantity and variety will continue, with almost all content ending up being what we now call long tail except for a few blockbusters (the Games of Thrones of the future). And if almost everything is long tail, then what role for experts, curators, pundits? What does all this mean for the current media industry? As I said in the previous blog, it’s hard to imagine any really positive long term scenario for most of today’s large media organizations. In everything I’ve said so far, the role for a broadcaster or a media conglomerate is considerably smaller? These organizations’ main roles have been content creation, content curation as well as distribution. Would they probably have such a large role in content creation? Probably not? In curation? No. In distribution? Probably not. So what then?
But beyond the strictly media aspects, what does this mean for society?
How does a society of content creators and storytellers differ from a society of content and story consumers? Even now, an important part of the interaction between the Facebook generation is through a sort of narrative of their daily lives via their posts to social media, which can be seen as the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century diary (except that in most cases it is shared with everyone you know!). But is explicit storytelling, as is starting to be done by Gen Z, rather than just posts and status reports, fundamentally different? It is common on Facebook or Twitter to have “arguments” via duelling sources, (“This source says this!”. “Oh yeah, but this other source says that!”) where we act as content distributors or relayers. How is this affected when everyone is a source and there is no ground truth?
Which leads to a really big question. What happens to experts? If almost everything is long tail then no one is a generally accepted expert. Would this affect how we consume (and believe) news? What might this mean for politics? One of the more important basis for government authority in a democratic society is the idea that they have access to experts and thus know what they are doing (or at least more than we do). We are obviously already seeing an erosion of this trust in authority – Brexit, Trump, “Fake news”, etc. – but this will only accelerate.
And at an even higher level, if many of us make our own content and almost all content is long tail, what does all this mean for societal cohesiveness? Would there be fewer shared, common themes across society? Is it harder to create or maintain common identities (national identity for example) with fewer of these common themes? Part of what makes some people British or German or Chinese may be genetics but it is also culture in the sense of common stories and history. We tend to feel far more empathy towards those with whom we have things in common, so what will become of us in a more fractured, diverse society with less shared culture?