Dear Generation Z,
Lazy. Entitled. Technology obsessed. Do those descriptions sound familiar? Like millennials, you have been called a variety of not so flattering labels. And now, the media has added one more: murderer. All right, maybe you weren’t called murderers, but you have been accused of killing. And no, not the horror movie kind, but rest assured you’ve managed to kill pastimes and have placed entire industries on life support.
As someone who either falls into the young millennial or old Gen Z category depending on your definition, I can only share in the excitement (read: eye rolls) as the media and boomers increasingly lament over “kids these days.” Still, a celebration is in order. Congratulations on initiating your first kill! You haven’t heard? I bet you were too busy playing with dog face filters to even notice you killed poor Facebook. According to Business Insider, teens don’t love the classic social media site and are on track to bury it in the digital graveyard along with Friendster and Xanga. So if and when the site fades quietly into the background, I will see you at the sink washing the blood off of your hands.
What’s that you say? You didn’t mean to kill Facebook? Well, of course you didn’t. And we “older” folk didn’t mean to kill MySpace, but hey, things happen. We loved MySpace, as maybe some of you once loved Facebook. I joined the site when I was 12-years-old and had to lie about my age to create an account, as I was just shy of the age requirement. I did so willingly because it was the cool place to be and the next big thing.
I imagine Facebook was never like that for most of you. It was likely less a rite of passage and more of just something you did, like getting your first email address. Plus, any platform where your parents or nosy aunt can keep tabs on you is pretty much a social media buzzkill. Facebook and the internet more broadly have evolved immensely in the last decade making it pointless to question why the habits of today’s teens are different from the generation before. Still, the media has offered some plausible explanations in headline after headline, analysis after analysis. A willing and eager partner in “explaining” youth, the media has time and again utilized charged language as a weapon, adding further ammunition for one generation to condemn the next. You prefer Snapchat for its anonymity and framework which caters to your short attention span. You value a sense of privacy and so one Instagram account simply isn’t enough. And perhaps your affection for social responsibility makes you wary of Facebook as it continues to be embroiled in scandal over data breaches.
That may well be true. However, I don’t know a single millennial or Gen Z-er who sees a headline blaming them for another failing industry and rallies to save or support it. We didn’t care when we began killing the movie business. Um, heard of Netflix and chill? We scoffed at the thought of saving Home Depot. I mean, with student loan debt, who can even afford to buy a house anyway? And despite their valiant effort, millennials have yet to be lured back into Applebee’s for a chicken finger basket and a side of fries. Hello, Seamless!
As the pendulum swings with shifting ideas and trends, so does the generational blame. Boomers and Gen X blame millennials and Gen Z for killing newspapers and dinner dates. Millenials and Gen Z bemoan boomers for killing the environment and the economy. We point fingers at each other asserting that the other’s sins are worse, hindering opportunities to learn from and with each other to facilitate solutions. Still, the blaming makes sense. We all learn from a young age that pointing the proverbial finger at someone else is easier than introspection, personal responsibility and collective accountability.
Truthfully, I can understand some of the criticism of Gen Z.
From my experience, I think broadly they’re spoiled, selfish, and clueless. They’re weird as hell in the way they care so much about Snapchat streaks and Musical.ly stars. They Uber e v e r y w h e r e. Still, their preferences, and that’s exactly what they are, are no reason for condemnation.
And for all the criticism of them being vapid, like generations before them, they are at the forefront for pushing for social change. When mass shootings became so routine that we barely thought about them a week later, students like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg became change agents and the newest faces in the fight against gun violence and the NRA. The March for Our Lives in March brought thousands of supporters together in over 800 different rallies worldwide to protest gun violence. Now, nearly four months since a mass shooting changed their lives, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are still lobbying for gun reform and young voter registration. The students have refused to fall silent on the issue despite constant torment from conservatives. Hitting the road this summer, the students announced Road to Change, a nationwide tour to register and educate voters.
They’re fighting for what they believe in just as every generation before them and rather than admonishing them for who they are not, what they are not, we ought to focus on supporting their civic engagement. If anything, the one organization Gen Z seems intent on dismantling is the NRA. Depending on your view, that might be a great deed in the name of public service as gun violence touches all communities and politicians continue to line their pockets with campaign contributions from the lobbying powerhouse
Facebook might die at the hands of Gen Z—and its breach of the public's trust. Casual dining restaurants of old may be relegated to nostalgia. Teens may never put their phones down but their brightly lit screens are much more than selfie storage but an organizational tool to create new movements. So, don’t worry. The kids are alright.