Gen Z: An Introduction
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
By Flora Learned:
Greetings, my name is Flora. I'm 23, and I come from a big family where I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I am an out and proud queer person and an avid supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. I'm a writer, video producer/editor, and artist. I've known Elizabeth Gracen for the last couple of years and now have the pleasure to work with her as the resource and social media manager over at Gen Z Collective. The site is a powerful platform for young people to express themselves, discuss current issues, connect with others, and find ways to become politically active. Over the coming months, I'm going to be writing here on Flapper Press about Gen Z, who they are and what makes them tick!
The young people of 2020 are truly inspiring, from their willingness to take action to their modern views on equality. Gen Z members are heading toward a brighter future, but the path ahead is cloudy with a chance of catastrophe. This week, we'll be diving into who falls into the Gen Z category and some of their most common traits.
The precise years that define Gen Z vary depending on who you ask; generally it refers to people born after the mid-1990s. Gen Z individuals have already begun to distinguish themselves from Millennials in many ways. While Gen Z folks and Millennials agree on some key social issues, things like intimacy, technology, and reachability starkly divide them. Influenced by society and world events, the Gen Z community has sobered up early on about the gravity of some of the difficulties they have to face in their lifetime. I've got great hope that Gen Z is bringing something special and beautiful into the world.
The last 40 years have seen an explosion in the capability of technology and a rapid decline in its associated costs. I can remember combination DVD/VHS players selling for over $100, where a few years down the road a DVD player is less than a third of the cost, and you'd be hard pressed to find a VHS player being sold anywhere firsthand. The young people in Gen Z have only ever lived digitally connected lives; from a young age, many have spent time on various social media networks. The internet also brings Gen Z news from around the globe in an instant, for better or worse. The internet is an incredibly powerful tool for bringing people together when used well, but it has its caveats. With how often you may see young people on their devices, it may surprise you that Gen Z members are 11% less likely to be “Ok being always reachable” than their Millennial counterparts. Interestingly, younger folks struggle more with taking time away from technology, though they may want it (figures from GfK Consumer Life). While we will all have to wait and see what the long-term effects of such connectedness are, we can all be certain that the internet is here for good.
Politics and Activism
The Gen Z populace has made quite a splash in the activism community and on the political stage. While it can be almost expected that any new generation will buck established traditions and norms, the specific issues that catch hearts and minds vary greatly from generation to generation. So, can you guess what Gen Z activists are most passionate about? Think to the news, social media, friends and family; are there specific things that you can remember young people challenging? Here is a breakdown of some issues that today’s young people hold dear, for now.
Gen Z respondents rank climate change as the #1 challenge of the coming decade (other options included the economy, terrorism, poverty, and unemployment; Masdar, 2016). It is easy to understand why the climate is seen as so important; if the planet is uninhabitable, what difference does the economy make? Even the UN has taken notice of the urgent cries of young people. General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador) echoed the calls of global youth in calling for action to be taken while there are still viable options for making sure that the current mass extinction we are experiencing doesn’t claim homo sapiens as one of the many species under its belt.
Gun violence has affected the lives of many young people and their families. While Gen Z representatives actually hold many of the same opinions about Gun Control as their predecessors, there are still differences. Teens and adults agree that setting a minimum age of 21 to “buy an AR-15–style rifle” is a good idea; lawmakers and lobbyists, however, have not caught up with the more than 75% of people in favor of better age restriction. As mass shootings have increased in the past two decades, active shooter drills have put young people on alert. A majority of teens have run through the procedure to follow in the event of a shooter, while fewer than 30% of adults have.
Gen Z folks are the most likely to view increased diversity as good for society. The trendline is not hard to make out either. For myself, and likely many Gen Z people, the idea that diversity could be a bad thing seems counterintuitive. There have been and continue to be attempts at racial, ethnic, and religious extermination around the planet, but these are totally at odds with globalization. These life-threatening attempts are at odds with newly fostered global connections, so much so they could easily be called primitive, but the young people of today are channeling their energy to the future. They will see the US turn into a minority majority country, and the impact of better-distributed political power could see a more equitable country for ALL, not just all white people.
Ready for Action
Twenty-six percent of older Gen Z folks already volunteer on a regular basis. This willingness to take action is one of the things that most inspires me as a member of Gen Z. I have marched in downtown LA with high school students demanding local, state, and federal government action on climate change. They talked about how their health has been impacted by living so close to oil-drilling sites; they spoke with urgency, saying, “What good is a math test if the planet cannot support human life?” I have seen young people at work cleaning trash from the beaches of Southern California; I have joined protestors marching for transgender rights. On all types of issues, young people are standing up and using the power of the internet and social media to organize and make sure their voices are heard. It is easy to write off fervor as naiveté, but don’t judge Gen Z too quickly. When you are young, time and emotional experiences are at an all-time high. There are no time-worn grooves when experiencing pain, sadness, or injustice. My hope for my generation as we age is that we remain willing to reassess our values and remain willing to take action. For previous generations with whom we are currently sharing the planet, I hope that you can get a glimpse of what the future holds if people and governments don’t take dramatic steps to right our course.
Find time this week to nourish yourself by spending time with young people. Be open-minded and kind; do your very best to remember what it is like to be young, and maybe I’ll see you at the next Climate Strike!
A Cleveland, OH native, Flora Gonska is a non-binary trans woman from a big family. She's a writer, video producer/editor, and artist. An avid supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and equality movement, she has lived in Los Angeles for three years, and she's involved in and enjoys writing on politics, the LGBTQ+ community, and life in the US.