What it means to be Gen Z

Hanif Amanullah, Staff Writer

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With a smartphone in one hand and a coffee in the other, today’s stereotypical high schooler is easy to spot, whether venting over political ideologies or analyzing the newest in a line of meme-established conspiracies. The oldest members of Generation Z (Gen Z), comprising kids born between 1996 and 2009, have finally started to create an identity for themselves.

Like any generation, Gen Z kids come with their own set of stereotypes. Being a member of the generation myself, I hear them all the time. “The kids who learned to swipe before learning to crawl.” “The Millennials on Steroids.” “iGen.” Worse, however, is the comparison to Millennials we have all heard. If I had a nickel for how many times some Baby Boomer has called out how my generation is just “the worst parts of the Millennial generation plus snapchat,” I would have, well, a lot of nickels.

When it comes down to it, the most typical sentiments expressed about my generation seem to be negative. (They are also usually expressed by people who have a hard time working a smartphone.) It is frustrating. No, Millennials aren’t the last generation with a work ethic. No, Gen Z is not a Millennial variation. Not only is Gen Z different from our predecessors, we are a generation with a strong work ethic, a smart view on technology, and an outlook on life that is more realistic and focused than the previous generation.

I know that seems like a bit of a blanket statement at first. But my reasoning is solid and, unfortunately, grim. For example, most American Millennials were born into relative financial security. Therefore, the advent of incidents like the 2008 recession and 9/11 were formative, awakening moments for the millennial generation’s global and financial outlook. Most of my friends and I, however, were barely a couple years old by the time 9/11 happened. Most of my friends and I don’t remember the events leading up to the 2008 recession, or its direct aftermath.

Even though Gen Z does not necessarily remember specific events like those, we feel the effects every day on our lives. Many of us have never lived during a time when the US was not at war or when economic and social tensions did not govern the way we live and did not frame our world view.

The Columbine Shooting, though it occured after 1996, is also absent from most of Gen Z’s consciousness. However, the Columbine Shooting marks the first of many violent events that have become more frequent every year of our lives, school shootings schools have come to shape my generation’s identity. They are less of a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy, and more of a constant, and they therefore define our idea of “the norm.” And these events, whether domestic or foreign, seem to just keep coming. The press exposure surrounding the deaths of Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and dozens of other African Americans due to extreme police brutality has increased tremendously during the short span of 16 years I’ve been alive. The systematic discrimination and sexism in our government still goes largely unchecked. And because of that, my generation’s view of the world, silly as our actions sometimes seem, is bleak. After all, jokes about eating Tide Pods are just jokes (usually), but they come from a place of severe dissatisfaction.

And yet, because of all these societal problems, we have a drive to change the world. Gen Z also grew up with America’s first black president and a realization that amazing things are possible (even concepts others might never have thought could become reality). The importance of social justice is something my generation is putting in the spotlight.

The constant innovation in the world of science has given many people my age the means with which to reshape their world. Technology is certainly not a fad for Gen Z. It is an instrument – one used to communicate and connect. But it also helps to educate us, and it helps us to educate our peers. Most importantly, it is something with which to inform and mobilize.

We can write an edgy takedown on Ted Cruz and get online before the PSAT memes roll in. We can challenge preconceived notions of gender and sexuality in the space of a Snapchat story while simultaneously googling quizlet vocab lists. We are a generation of multi-tasking, stereotype-breaking, nonconforming people. A generation who believes that things could be better, and a generation that is willing to work for the changes we want to see. Generation Z is a group of people that know great things are possible, and know how to adapt to use the tools necessary to write our lives’ narratives in a new light. And we will probably write them in lowercase text.