By Lyka Peng, G11
So how did this all begin? How are teenagers nowadays terrified of approaching waiters at a restaurant, yet unafraid to curse out a bigot?
TW! Mental health problems, EDs, mentions of suicide, shootings, sexual assault
According to the Pew Research Organisation, Generation Z are the group of individuals born after 1996, directly following the Millennial generation. They are mainly referred to as the shortened ‘Gen Z’ or the more uncommon, ‘iGen’, and are most notably known for their dependency on technology and social media. Some would even say that they don’t know a time without the Internet. Therefore, some say ‘tech-addicted’ and ‘antisocial’ would be example definitions of the stereotypical Gen Z individual. (Business Insider)
It is to no surprise that Gen Z grew up on the Internet. Photos, videos, memes, or even just one’s thoughts and opinions– they are all shared online and made accessible to the public. Through technology and social media, Gen Z are interconnected, even on a global scale. From texting to facetiming, various forms of communications have emerged and social media platforms such as Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and the most recent hit Tik Tok, have been popularised.
Gen Z are able to interact and make friends from all around the world, therefore typically making them more culturally and socially aware. For example, Pew Research Center asserts that 59% of Gen Z says that when a form or online profile refers to an individual’s gender, it should include more options than ‘man’ and ‘woman’, more than any other generation. 35% of Gen Z also states that they personally know individuals who identify with gender neutral pronouns (they/them/theirs, or neopronouns eg: zie/zim/zir).
Gen Z is also referred to as the loneliest generation, scoring a 48.3 overall in loneliness. They are also most likely to report mental health problems, as stated by the American Psychological Association (APA). Issues such as gun violence, sexual assault, and immigration are the leading causes of these problems. About 75% of Gen Zs reported mass shootings as their cause of stress as they often think about the possibilities of it happening.
Eating disorders are also very common within Gen Z, even on college campuses when kids are expected to start adulting for the first time. One of the main contributing factors is social media depicting unrealistic standards of beauty.
Most importantly, Gen Z are exposed to far more events and issues on both a local and international level than earlier generations. Growing up with or after major events such as 9/11 and the 2016 US Presidential Election allows them to think more critically about the world surrounding them. Global movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and School Strike for Climate Change are also documented and shared online.
They try to include activism in their daily lives as well. It is shown that Gen Z consumerism is drastically different than older generations– they hold big companies and brands accountable, demanding authenticity and conscious choices to be made.
Child stars are not an uncommon phenomenon, especially with social media being the most impactful on Gen Z. There are over 500,000 influencers on Instagram who make money off the things they post or are sponsored by on social media.
Furthermore, as TikTok is mainly a teenage dominated platform, influencers like Charli D’Amelio are especially successful. She is 16 years of age with the most followers on the app itself– with 99.3M followers and counting, she earns about 100,000$ per sponsored post. That does not mean that Tiktok is only fit for a one time stardom, though– the way the app is formatted allows practically anyone to go viral if the content gets on the ‘For You Page’.
‘Stanning’– being an obsessive fan, or being in a fandom– short for ‘Fan Kingdom’ is one of the most prominent parts of Gen Z culture. Being exposed to this much media allows the opportunity for Gen Z individuals to become interested in many different things, such as arts, sports, movies, music, and so much more. Social media has become a place where like minded people come together about their interests– equivalent to a community of their own. Some of the most dominant fandoms seen on social media platforms are K-Pop, Anime, or celebrity life.
With fandoms and fan communities also comes ‘cancel culture’– one of the most debatable topics to arise. Cancel Culture is essentially online shaming, in which a celebrity is ‘exposed’ by their wrongdoings or scandals, and people publicly shame them, even going to the extent of boycotting them and trying to take away their online presence. Some see it as beneficial, whilst others see it as toxic as it does not allow room for people to grow.
Nothing screams Gen Z than using humor as a coping mechanism. This is so integrated into daily life that bad mental health is considered a normalised thing. To other generations, Gen Z jokes may seem a bit brutal or straight up concerning, with some of the main phrases being, “I might kill myself.” In a sarcastic way, of course– or so it seems.
Another example would be ‘Ok Boomer,’ which is a viral Internet slang term coined to mock close minded behaviour, specifically those associated with the older generation, particularly the Baby Boomers. The older generation tends to think that this is an ageist slur, but the term itself is supposed to be addressing a certain type of behaviour, not a community as a whole. It seems as though Gen Z uses humor to tackle more serious issues, as it is simply just an easier way to approach certain topics.
“We hear you now, more so than ever.”
Gen Z is becoming more and more acclimated to an incredibly political day and age. They constantly demand change and understand the importance of striving for a better world. Whatever it may be, they are incredibly future orientated– after all, they are the future.
Cover Image courtesy of Social Change Central, 2019.