We live in an increasingly digital world, and few demographics understand this better than Generation Z. Typically defined as those born after 1995, Gen Z is notable for coming of age in a time when smartphones, apps and other major tech advances have been the norm for years.
As a result, they tend to be more comfortable with using technology in their day to day lives. Of course, this mastery of digital tools has left others wondering how Gen Z will cultivate a sense of community in the years to come. But where some find digital problems, others are actively creating digital solutions.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Esther Crawford, CEO of Squad.
Her startup has already gained press attention for its innovative app, which targets Gen Z by providing a digital place to hang out through screen sharing. Here’s a closer look at how Crawford and her company are seeking to make the digital world more community-driven:
Naturally, it first helps to understand just what Squad is and how it works. “Our goal was to fight back against the loneliness and isolation that’s stereotypically associated with screen time,” Crawford explains.
“So much of our time is spent on our phones, but it’s been hard to share those experiences in real time. The solution has been sending each other links or screenshots, but we wanted to create a product that mimicked the in-person experience of sitting next to your friend so you could both see the same thing at the same time. ”
Squad operates as a screen-sharing app for smartphones.
Unlike traditional video calls, which show the user’s face, Squad instead allows smartphone users to cast their screen to up to eight other users participating in the same digital “room.” Multiple people can screen share at the same time.
As Crawford elaborates, “Our idea was to empower users to turn any app into a shared social experience. Audio and video chat allow users who are physically distant to feel as if they’re next to each other while they’re swiping on potential dates, scrolling through Instagram, or watching YouTube videos. This way, smartphones are no longer ‘isolating’ — instead, they’re a way of coming together.”
The concept has significant appeal to Gen Z—according to Squad, about 70 percent of its current active users are girls between the ages of 13 and 17. With the vast majority of its user base under the age of 24, it is clear that the idea of a “digital hangout” can create more social connections in the future.
Though the app is currently only available for iPhone, the company is planning a launch for Android in the near future, and is currently working on increasing how many people can join a single “room.” Silicon Valley believes in Squad’s potential — the company has already raised $2.2 million from notable investors.
Though much of the focus for smartphone screen sharing has been for how it can enhance social media use, Crawford and others have been quick to note that this is far from the only way Squad could introduce new possibilities for digital communication.
“We’ve been really surprised by some of the unique ways our users have decided to harness our app,” Crawford says. “It goes way beyond sharing videos or listening to music. We’ve had people use screen sharing to get homework help or to do tech support with family members. We even had a beta tester use it for a gender reveal.”
Ultimately, the main goal of Squad is to serve as a “third place” — what Psychology Today defines as those places “where people congregate other than work or home.”
As Business Insider’s Audrey Schomer writes, “While third places used to be physical spaces, like coffee shops or malls, they, like many other physical things, have digitized. Young, digitally native people, are comfortable not only sharing their lives via devices, but immersing themselves in digital realities to engage with others. New experiences built for new technologies will increasingly facilitate the digital-physical convergence that has emerged among younger generations.”
Clearly, Squad seems poised to lead the charge into making sure that digital “third places” can still foster the same sense of community and connectivity that were once so predominant in real-world hangout spots.
“We really think there is limitless potential for how people can use Squad because it’s a top-level social layer that lets you spend time with friends in all of your favorite apps,” Crawford says.
“Users can choose and edit photos together, offer dating advice for their friends on Tinder, pick restaurants, book hotels and more—altogether and in real time. By streamlining the way we share information, we hope that it will become easier for users to connect and accomplish their goals, whether that’s finishing a school project or just hanging out.”
No extra speakers or projectors. No need for lengthy email or text threads. With screen sharing, everything can be accomplished with a single device in real time.
As Crawford and Squad illustrate, the use of digital technology doesn’t have to be a roadblock to creating a sense of community with our peers. Friendships and other relationships are no longer confined to real-world interactions. Rather than fearing it, embracing tech changes and looking for new opportunities to “hang out” could help us become more connected than ever before.