Man looking at smartphone in bed at night

Image by Krzysztof Kamil from Pixabay

NEW YORK — Do you have an online secret nobody knows about? Nearly half of Gen Zers feel like they’re living a “double life” when it comes to their online and offline personas.

A survey of 2,000 Americans, split evenly by generation, found that 46% of Gen Z respondents feel their personality online vastly differs from how they present themselves in the real world. However, they’re not the only ones hiding a different side of themselves behind a screen. In fact, 27% of respondents across all generations share this feeling, with 38% of millennials, 18% of Gen Xers, and 8% of baby boomers claiming to live “double life” online.

The poll also asked Americans if they’re keeping their online persona a secret from any family members — and one in five said yes. Specifically, 31% of Gen Z respondents admitted their online world is a secret from family, while 27% of millennials said the same.

This research was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Lenovo for the latest iteration of its “Work for Humankind” project, called “Meet Your Digital Self.” In this project, Lenovo brought the online personas of two Gen Z individuals to life as three-dimensional avatars. The avatars not only resembled each individual but also responded to real-time conversation, adjusting their tones, movements, and facial expressions based on individual idiosyncrasies and emotions. The goal was to enable meaningful conversations between the Gen Z participants, their families, and the avatars, deepening understanding of each of the three participants’ online worlds.

Man and his virtual personality
46% of Gen Z respondents feel their personality online vastly differs from how they present themselves in the real world. (© top images – stock.adobe.com)

The survey highlighted the value of these conversations, as 53% of Gen Zers said it’s easier to express themselves online than offline. That’s compared to 40% of respondents overall — including 49% of millennials and 35% of Gen X. Less than a quarter (23%) of baby boomers said the same.

While it may be easier for some respondents to express themselves online, half the poll (49%) admits they sometimes feel a disconnect between who they are online and offline — with that number again highest for Gen Z respondents (68%). For those who experience this disconnect, regardless of age, it’s led to feelings of anxiety (18%), loneliness (17%), and depression (15%).

Respondents were also asked what they were more comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions online. About a fifth were more comfortable sharing their ambitions (21%), their fears or insecurities (17%), and their beliefs — political or otherwise (19% each) — online than they would be offline. Compared to their offline self, their online persona also has clearer likes/dislikes (22%), different likes/dislikes (17%), and more controversial opinions and values (15% each).

“Around one in five of the world’s young people have a mental health condition, reflecting a global crisis,” says Gerald Youngblood, the CMO of Lenovo North America, in a statement. “We hope this social experiment will drive more conversations between friends and family about the need to understand each other’s worlds for the sake of mental well-being.”

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 American respondents — split evenly by generation — was commissioned by Lenovo between March 29 and April 9, 2024. It was conducted by market research company OnePoll, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society and have corporate membership to the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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