Gen Zers are rejecting the sterile, constrained online identities forged by older social platforms in favor of more customized forms of online expression.
The next generation of internet users wants customizable and consistent digital identities — a reaction to the uniform, dull, and inconsistent identities of the last decade.
In a well-argued essay, Rex Woodbury, by day an investor at digital start-up specialist Index Ventures and by night a blogger on consumer technology, identifies that companies set to lead the next era of online expression “will embrace Gen Z’s ethos of creativity, self-expression, and unabashed authenticity.”
That’s in marked crossed to the siloed, disjointed, and frankly rather dull digital identities developed for us by older generations by the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn.
“Gen Z’s today are embracing two new tenets of digital identity: customizability and consistency. Customizability reclaims the self-expression of Myspace. Digital natives gravitate toward products that let them stand out online, a rejection of Facebook’s white-and-blue uniforms.”
Scout, for example, is building 3D virtual rooms that users can fully customize and curate, all in the browser. Scout’s founder, Zack Hargett, calls Scout “Myspace for the Roblox generation.”
The digital native generation is being trained to customize rich, complex virtual worlds. Scapin’, for instance, lets anyone create customized virtual spaces to hang out with friends or strangers. In some ways, it’s Roblox for adults. Other startups, like Dreamworld and Manticore Games, are blurring the lines of sandbox games, social networks, and customized virtual spaces.
They’re also using new tools to personalize digital identity. Companies like Figma and Kapwing offer accessible products that let anyone manipulate software for their own self-expression. Content platforms like TikTok embed creator tools into the app.
“There’s no longer a need for specialized knowledge of Adobe Premiere — you can make professional-grade content with native editing tools and special effects.”
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The other key component in Gen Z’s digital identity is consistency. Millennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers were taught to behave differently on different platforms. On LinkedIn, you’re professional; on Facebook, you’re family-friendly; on Instagram, you’re stylish; on Tinder, you’re sexy.
“Gen Z’s view LinkedIn as a cringeworthy, out-of-touch place for older internet users to subtly (or not-so-subtly) humblebrag. Gen Z’s [are exhausted] with the status-seeking, back-patting, clout-chasing DNA of social media. Digital natives would rather have a single consistent identity threaded across platforms.”
For Gen Zers, online identity is consistent across platforms; authenticity and self-expression are paramount and not platform dependent.
“For people who have lived their entire lives on the internet — people who will spend more and more time in virtual worlds over the coming decades — online identity is an extension of unvarnished, unairbrushed offline identity. It’s something to be consistent and authentic, as well as meticulously customized to maximize self-expression.”