I live with two self-proclaimed nerds. They love being nerds (as they should). They love nerd culture. They will watch nerd movies, read nerd books, and buy nerd things. Despite one being a Gen Xer and the other a Gen Zer, their nerd culture consumer behavior has been pretty much the same. Their world is one of Apple, cyber-punk, gadgets, Hackers, and niche cartoons.
I’ll admit I’ve been waiting for a generational split, a moment when today’s nerd of gadget culture and tech billionaires would no longer partake in activities enjoyed by the nerd from the time of Urkel and whiz kids. In my home, this split was exemplified by Homestuck.
Homestuck is a webcomic series. The comic uses a combination of static images, animated GIFs, instant message logs, Flash animations, and games created in HTML5. It’s interactive, it’s busy, and it’s filled with typing shorthand and meme language. Characters are connected and communicate almost exclusively through technology. PBS’s Idea Channel compared it to James Joyce’s Ulysses in its complexity and length. “They understand the language,” I hear from non-Gen Zers about Gen Zers. “They understand multimedia narratives.”
I largely agree with the overall sentiment Gen Zers are tech fluent. But what does that mean? Many talks surrounding the digital native generation mistakenly conclude the generation understands how technology works when what we’re actually seeing is a generation that is simply comfortable interacting with technology. This tech fluency, as Forbes points out, is a strong indicator of how to communicate with this generation.
Gen Zers look for products that resonate with their reality instead of an aspirational product or message. Much like what we see with Homestuck, they gravitate towards serious, seemingly dark and complex story lines. Dystopian narratives (The Hunger Games) and post-apocalyptic themes (Adventure Time) rules this generation’s culture already. Their heroes are young and regular (not unlike the nerdy main character of Homestuck, John Egbert, who has difficulties communicating with his father). Their heroes, who literally change their whole society and not necessarily themselves for the better, reflect the Gen Zers’ need to change the world. This connectivity and social awareness will allow them to do the most thorough research on products and brands. Brands that instill confidence and reliability will be the true successful marketing stories of this generation.
My home’s Gen Zer spends a lot of his time sharing his thoughts on Homestuck through Instagram, deviantART, Google+ and kik. He identifies with characters (namely trolls), has inside jokes with other Homestuckers and exchanges excited, rapid-fire texts with me when I text him about it. Conversely, the Gen Xer struggles with Homestuck. “I just don’t understand it,” he says. He genuinely tries. He tried reading it several times, sighed ‘meh’, and went back to looking up new gadget toys on Kickstarter.
It makes sense when you put the Gen Xer in the context of his generation; a whole culture of apathetic ‘mehs’. But if there is one trait that holds these two together and excludes the overly-optimistic Gen Yer, it’s being realistic. While Homestuck can’t deliver on realism for the Gen Xer, brands that stand for reliability and long-term will have both generations’ loyalty.