“Understanding Generation Z”
By Alexander Nicholi
I want to begin this letter with a preface outlining the basis for my work here in a personal capacity (my perspective). I was born in 1998, and by most measures I regard myself as an older Zoomer. By not-so-arbitrary prevailing metrics for delineating us from millenials, I don’t recall society or “the world” as it was before September 11, 2001 in any meaningful way, and I’ve had computers to work and play with since I can remember. Although this might be explainable by our economic background, I didn’t have a smartphone until I started high school, and I never had internet until fifth grade.
Many of the things I’ll go over here have come from discussions I had with my husband about these things, and for transparency’s sake I should mention he is a younger millenial, from 1992. It’s also worth noting that he did not grow up in the West, but rather Indonesia, and has memory of the 1998 societal upheavals for which I don’t recall there being any equivalent in the West. He was raised in a middle-class family of merchants, and that’s about it.
The reason I want to write this is because we’re probably the least understood generation of relevance right now. It’s all mainstream media can do to write articles explaining that we exist, and no, we’re not millenials really at all, and in other cultures (like that of Indonesia), the marketing and business establishments are completely unaware of us. The oldest of us are in our twenties, it’s about time okay?
The other thing, as you’ll soon see, is that Zoomers are different in a way that’s going to affect those before them in a very drastic way. Millenials and Gen X’ers need to pay attention to us, for their own sake. Let’s find out why!
In the legacy of Zoomers so far, one thing is almost universally understoood: schools are prisons. This is meant quite literally, and if you look at how they’re ran these days you might end up second-guessing yourself too. New facilities are built out in seclusion, a short, convenient car drive away from suburbia: this is the ‘farm’ in “prison farm”. All points of entry and exit are manned by police, the perimeter is fenced and CCTV runs 24/7/365. Even if you could walk out of this, where would you go? I hope you’re the one kid with a family backwoods enough to live next to something like this. You probably won’t escape being doped up on ritalin, because your parents still have faith in a crumbling academic system propping up hardcore drugs for a bloodthirsty pharmaceutical oligopoly and pseudo-religious lunatics from admin who can’t fathom that kids having short attention spans is, to a large extent, normal.
It wasn’t always like this. Actually, this norm was being erected during the upbringing of Millenials! But this delay meant Millenials had a very different learning pattern: it was still somewhat sensible to learn through exploration and understand the rules by breaking them. You and your friends would crawl through a dugout ditch to pass the fences, only to come back next week and find the ditch plugged. You’d climb the fence only to find it being barbed up the following schoolyear. Zoomers never had this exploratory inclination because the place was already sealed, there was no hope of some innocent ‘escape’. Instead, dissent formed in a very different way, as we’ll get into later.
Most of these oppressive policies were put up by Boomers, and regrettably carried out by Gen X’ers, who had hoped to fix the system from the inside and only found themselves stuck. None of this makes any fucking sense, and that’s because the Boomers are completely full of shit, and being so populous it was inevitable that most of society would find themselves servicing their double standards at every point to the ruin of us all. The bureaucracy of government and schools means that for the most part, these ‘stuck’ Gen X’ers are powerless to reform themselves and do what they originally came for. Even as Boomers retire and die, they’re too old and careered to make the kind of pivot needed for that without committing career suicide. It’s too late.
Well, we rejected this hand of course, as best as any kid could drag their feet. We never really got a say in it anyway. More aptly, this setup caused us to exemplify quite spectacularly the adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and this is why the name Zoomer is so perfect: the matter of Boomers is the antimatter of Zoomers. Where Boomers had everything handed to them, Zoomers had everything taken away. Interestingly enough, this makes Zoomers the first generation so far that has the composition to crack the Boomer hypocrisy: we have the rejection and edge of Gen X’ers, with 100% less faith in the current establishment to trip us up.
This shitty hand, as much as it leaves us to waste, doesn’t make us into victims. Actually, to the chagrin of the bureau, who wants so badly to make victims out of everyone nowadays, we reject that too for the farce that it is. If there is any common thread shared by Zoomers besides varying degrees of personal and institutional abuse, it’s the wisdom gotten very early on to detect and avoid large-scale bullshit. In the school prisons, hypocrisy is the order of the day: insane reactive policies are put into effect that defeat basic common sense so badly that 12-year-olds can reason how nonsensical they are, and we’re always told this is for our own protection. This is plain unbelievable.
Zoomers have been tempered by this charade toolising them into one of the most self-driven, proactive and persevering generations we’ve seen. This is anecdotal, but I have friends five years my junior who have already sorted themselves enough to want to commit to HRT, and my sibling is quite personally driven to act, as directionless as they might be. I myself have come quite a lot farther than most my age, being married and globally traveled with no special familial hand at all. There isn’t even a consistent reason for this, which almost makes it insane.
Gen X’ers were noted for their exceptionally entrepreneurial nature, and this is even more true for Zoomers: true out of a psychological need, even. There are a lot of similarities between Zoomers and Gen X’ers, and save the drastically different school system and upbringing they might otherwise be the same.
As edgy as Zoomers might be about everything, the struggle endured from the start has caused them to care under the surface in a way more resembling of Millenials, with their constant endeavour to make amends and keep people happy. While we may certainly reject their approach, the end goal of fixing things and feeling better together seems to be one and the same. I think this is important for a cooperative effort, if there will be one.
It’s tough to say for sure, but whatever ends up happening in our hands will almost certainly be intense. As the up-and-coming, Zoomers are rebels with a cause, and as is often the case with rebels, they have little to lose. And there will absolutely be something that happens, because we aren’t intent on sitting still or slowing down no matter how reasonable that might seem to older folks.
There is good cooperative potential between Zoomers and Millenials. However, Generation X has been notorious for completely misunderstanding the others, which (understandably) tripped them up and got them stuck with Boomers, and for whatever reason led them to view Millenials as an entitled generation. I have serious doubts they’re gonna do much better in understanding Zoomers, and given the radical tinge we have that’s not gonna make for good relations on the whole. Collectively things are already rocky, as the standard bearers of the Boomer hypocrisy in schools have been these well-meaning Gen X’ers, whom we’ve come to view as completely delusional.
Zoomers want to fight this from the outside, and working with Millenials who may be able to better stomach an internal resistance, may achieve success with this. In general, Zoomers are a generation of fighters, with a war to wage or not. This can turn out very destructively, but also turn out magnificently in a way no one in living memory has ever seen.
Personally, this is very exciting for me. In all of my work and passions I have this same feeling, as I watch things go to hell and get ruined, I think of how much easier it’s going to be for me to help fix it and change it all. I want to see them continue to fuck up, I always hope they do one worse when we all couldn’t fathom it getting any more terrible, because it’s all the more to use for making a more resilient reboot when we get the chance. Maybe that’s why it’s so funny to see terrible shit on social media.