By Justine Sarfan
BEGINNING A PORTRAIT OF GENERATION Z
For the last 30 years cult classics like The Breakfast Club, Clueless, and Superbad have brought the magic, ironies and idosyncracies of each new generation of teenage Americans to the surface of pop culture. These movies serve as portraits of each generation long after they grown up. Millennial teens have left their legacy, so it’s time for Generation Z to make their mark—selfies don’t count.
No doubt the 18-and-unders of today, Generation Z, are as love-sick, self-indulgent, accidentally poetic, and well, young, as those immortalized in pop culture once were, but the relationship to the world seen in the facts below will surely result in a cultural impact all their own.
DIGITAL PRECEDES THEM
The Internet has always been a part of their lives. They’ve had touch screens since they were born. Most have at least 5 screens in their lives. This means the way they communicate and absorb information is different than any generation before.
It also means they have a unique relationship to the cultural artifacts made in the past. Generally, they think in 4D; they prefer pictures and video to words.
IDENTITIES THAT ARE “POST”- EVERYTHING
When it comes to traditional identity norms they think more broadly than past generations. They are multiracial, and grew up comfortable in a world where traditional gender roles and norms are blurred.
In contrast to feel-good, over-coddling Boomer parents of Millenials, Gen Xers give their kids independence.
That independence, combined with access to the Internet hamade Generation Z self-starters.
They have a crowd-sourced, social-media informed, DIY-everything approach to life, a powerful addition their proactive attitude. Perhaps in response to the infectious spirit of start-up business culture, 42.2% of them plan to be entrepreneurs, 37.8% say that they will invent something that changes the world.
MIX IDEALISM AND PRAGMATISM
This contradictory cocktail reflects their Gen X parents’ values and the climate of post-9-11 American culture. While they are optimistic about their ability to impact the world—70% say they want to have a job that changes the world—they are also calculated and pragmatic. They were deeply affected by the Great Recession, making the economy and costs the things that worry them most.
The Hunger Games, dramatic as it is, is an apt reflection of their mindset about life and society. Most start working for pay at a young age and report learning about money, banking and entrepreneurship in school.
Their connectedness is a blessing and a curse. Members of Generation Z claim to feel empowered by their connectedness, but it may limit their experimentation with certain typical teen behaviors. They have less sex, drink less and use less drugs than those before them—food is their biggest vice. Consequently, they have a higher rate of obesity.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A WAY OF LIFE, NOT JUST A PART OF IT
For the under-18s of today, likability and importance are based on the number of likes or re-tweets on a post. Tweeting at a brand or a celebrity is totally normalized, and getting a reply or being part of a marketing stunt is even better.
They are heavily engaged with social media, but rather than being thrown out the window, cultural customs around public vs. private on social media are being evolved by this group. Fittingly, this is the first cultural site where we can witness their impact: 25% of 13-17 year olds left Facebook in 2014. They have a penchant for platforms that offer privacy and anonymity, such as Snapchat, Secret, and Yik Yak.
CULTURE MOVES WITH MAKERS
Generation Z has inherited a newly connected world from other generations but they will be the ones who truly appropriate it and transform culture with technology.
I look forward to seeing the universal hypocrisies, challenges and hopes at the core of our culture exposed through their fresh lens. We haven’t seen their version of Pretty In Pink yet, but whatever device we view it on, the themes here will be present. These truths are the foundation for the portrait of America’s youngest generation.