By KERRY TINGA
Why does each generation have a name? […] I believe that this naming of generations is one of the most fundamentally useless things we can call the developing youth of our country.”
Out of the numerous thought pieces and road maps published on how to deal with my generation, whether you call us Generation Z, iGeneration, post-Millennial, or what have you, this answer in a student opinion poll by The New York Times to the question “What Should We Call Your Generation?” struck me as the most reflective statement to symbolize us.
While other periods could be described with what was in fashion, on market trend, our generation is fraught with individualism and uniqueness to become market segments with interests as varied as we are numbered. Born in the mid-‘90s to the late ‘00s, we refuse any generation generalization and can back it up with a “why,” to boot.
There is one undeniable truth to characterize our generation, and that is that we do not remember a time before the internet. While other generations are online as well, the internet and its associated technologies have permeated all aspects of our lives. That has been the case since we were born. It is not just the new way we consume information and media, in our formative years it essentially defined our culture, our view of the world, and ultimately ourselves.
Matt Locke, former head of Innovation at the BBC before starting Storythings, a digital media and data analytics (the two immensely intertwined these days) company, describes the consumption shift as one from “the schedule” to “the stream.”
In 2006, Facebook introduced the News Feed, changing the social network and media landscape forever. Today, there are over two billion monthly active users on Facebook, and its News Feed has become one of the most influential aspects of the media industry—just look at the “fake news” scandals from 2016 onward.
While our generation has found Facebook less and less popular, the News Feed has become an essential aspect of the most popular social media sites and apps, from Twitter to Snapchat to Instagram to YouTube. According to GenHQ, almost half of all Gen Z-ers interviewed say they watch more than three or more hours of YouTube daily. The system essentially remains the same, as our home page on any social media site is filled with things we have voluntarily decided to receive notifications from, as well as other things that are decided by an algorithm playing around our preferences. Everything is personalized. This goes beyond our social media sites onto Amazon suggestions for what to buy and even Google search bar predictions and results.
We are born with the world in our hands—literally. Whether through a smartphone or a tablet, where we can connect and find someone of similar interests halfway across the globe by following them on social media, or delve deep into learning about what we are already interested in by reading what hundreds of articles and sites online are saying.
Never has so much of modern human history been accessible in a single time as it is now. We can listen to Frank Sinatra as easily as we can to Bruno Mars, without having to scour for a CD that may or may not be sold at a store near you. We can watch Sunset Boulevard as easily as we can watch the Avengers films, without having to wait for the movie we want to come up on TV or even wait a few days for our rental to arrive.
Never have so many of the corners of the world been accessible in a single time as it is now. We can listen to underground British techno as easily as we can to K-pop music. We can watch Spanish language telenovelas as easily as we can watch Japanese anime.
The Norwegian teen drama, Skam, broke viewership records with an average of 800,000 viewers per episode when shown on television in its native country. By 2016, Skam was trending globally on social media as (technically illegal) uploaded episodes with English subtitles on Yo u Tu b e were hitting seven digits. One of the lead actors, Tarjei Sandvik Moe, performed a play in Oslo that was sold-out . reportedly because of Korean Skam fans. It was a worldwide phenomenon, not unlike other non-English pop culture sensations such as K-pop group BTS, who hit number one on Billboard Magazine’s music charts.
Never has information all across the globe been so readily available in real time, uncensored and uncut, as it spreads through social media. On a darker note, never have we seen or experienced a world at peace as the “War on Terror” was launched in 2001 before our earliest memories. Every act of terror and tragedy reaches us through notification alerts on our phones or through posts on social media. Never has every person in a generation been so aware of the chaos of the “real world” so early in their lives.
So what does this—the crazy, technology-enabled, globalized, connected world of disruption that our generation has grown up in—mean?
It means we are not scared to be individuals who vocalize their opinions, to like the things we like, to do the things we do, and are not content when things are not as we think they should be.
We can open a store on Instagram as a young entrepreneur. We can become a journalist in our own right through a YouTube channel and a phone with a camera, taking control of who we are and who we may become.
Our interests are as varied as we are numbered, and now we are the largest chunk of the global population. As such, it is not so much about what interests can define our generation, but rather, what we do with our interests that represent who we are. We take to social media to proudly spread our passions, take those passions and turn them into businesses, look at the world and seek to innovate and change it for what we believe is the better.
We have our eyes wide open, resources right at our fingertips (literally), looking to be, as Mahatma Ghandi once said, the change we wish to see in the world.