What's up with young people these days?

As much as that's a traditional grumble for us older folk, it's also a central question for business as it grapples with social trends that threaten to disrupt it.

The internet has dramatically shifted notions of teenage rebellion to the extent that no self-respecting teen would dream of raging against the machine without a social media strategy.


A recent study by camera phone company Oppo found that nine out of 10 Kiwis aged between 18 and 24 saw becoming an Instagram influencer as their dream job.

In other words they want to get paid for taking photos of their lunch.

Obviously we can't all be social influencers. As an economic model this quickly becomes a pyramid scheme.

Surely we'll still need most people to be influencees (i.e. consumers) if business is to fork out money to these kids.

Also, until we get the robot revolution sorted, we still need some people to make and do things.

But kids are serious about this stuff.

According to the survey 36 per cent are trying to build their Instagram following, with 39 per cent saying they get anxious about the number of likes they get when posting.

And 21 per cent have actively researched tips on how to become an influencer.


Why can't they knuckle down and start rock and roll bands like we did in the old days?

Is this generation just a pack of idiots?

Probably, but at a certain level young people have always been a pack of idiots.

For all their energy and optimism they are also impulsive and lack wisdom.

If anything, young people were more reckless and irresponsible in the good old days.

And in the good old days, they were you.

Friday was the 34th anniversary of the infamous Queen St riots.

That's as good an example of how the world has changed as anything.

On Friday December 7, 1984, thousands of young people went on a rampage down Queen St, smashing shop windows and overturning cars, after a free concert fronted by Dave Dobyn got seriously out of hand.

To modern sensibilities, the fact that Dobyn was at the centre of the carnage is a little comical.

No, the young people weren't infuriated by hearing him play Welcome Home one time too often. He hadn't written that yet.

In fact they were keen to hear more Dobbyn — who was charged and later cleared of inciting a riot.

New Zealand — to use a colloquialism of the day — was as rough as guts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Young people drank less responsibly, they drove less responsibly, they had sex less responsibly.

Men smoked indoors and urinated in the streets.

The embankment crowds at one-day cricket and Ranfurly Shield matches were a hot pot of boorish, anti-social and often abusive behaviour.

Going to town on a Friday night was fraught with danger. The threat of violence was ever present.

One of the big drivers of youthful behaviour in the 1980s — presumably a hangover from the social change of the 1960s — was a staunchly anti-establishment mentality.

It was cool to rebel. That could involve political activism but was just as likely to involve smashing beer bottles in a parking lot or swearing at your teacher.

I'm sure that teenage rebellion will always exist to some degree — but it seems decidedly more sophisticated.

Kids these days want to monetise their stupidity.

Just take a look at the Top 10 earning Youtube stars — as ranked by Forbes magazine.

If you've got kids you might have heard of a few of them.

At number one was a 7-year-old kid called Ryan who reviews toys. He made US$22 million last year — although clearly he's a creation of his parents.

The rest are a mix of gamers and pranksters who have found a way to turn their youthful pursuits into multi-million-dollar business empires.

The most famous are the Paul brothers — Jake and Logan — who earned US$21.5m and US$14m respectively in 2018.

Jake and Logan Paul.
Jake and Logan Paul.

In their early 20s they are already elder statesmen of the Youtube generation. Both have grown up seeing their personal identities as a brand.

That's the guts of the current generational change. We are bringing up a wave of kids coming through who think like marketing executives.

They aren't about to suddenly riot down Queen St — unless it aligns with their brand values. Then they'll have done the maths on whether the pay-off in followers will outweigh the risks.

Business is going to have to stop trying to market to these kids and start marketing with them.

Mass marketing is dead. The connections that businesses make with their customers will are more like partnerships — millions of microscopic-sponsorship deals.

The technology is already there. The smartest brands have cottoned on to it.

So to has the Chinese state, which is seeking to impose a social media based hierarchy on its population to secure loyalty.

To us oldies — still mired sensibilities of rock and roll rebellion — it can all seem deeply dystopian.

But the case could be made that it puts more power in the hands of consumers.

Whether it stacks up economically remains to be seen.