Insights from Pi Volume 01, Issue 02: "Gen Z Matters More than Millennials"
While consensus on how politically divided the US really is these days remains uncertain, the extremity of our news cycles across nearly every sociocultural channel is undoubted. The rise of identity-group politics has shifted our climate dramatically. Our news updates are as extreme and emotional as they are personal.
Climate change. Gun control. Human rights. Immigration. Gender. Race. Assault. Privacy. Opinions are strong and the voices are loud; many of which are coming from Gen Z.
The events that occupy our news channels are hitting closer to home for Gen Z than previous generations have had to endure. Since Columbine (April 20, 1999), the US has seen more than 230 school shootings. Because policymakers have not made sufficient headway in gun control, students are taking action with walkouts, protests, and social media. Gun violence has become an identifier for the Gen Z population and is now the symbol for all of the things that frustrate young people about Washington, DC. A recent US survey found that mass shootings have had the greatest impact on Gen Z’s world view, with 65 percent agreeing that it has a major effect (Morning Consult, 2019)
The Economist characterized Gen Z as “more educated and well-behaved, but more stressed and depressed than any generation” in comparison to previous ones.
It’s no wonder that record numbers of young people globally are fearful about the future. Sadly, Gen Z has been marked as the anxiety generation. To take a step back, earlier this year in February, The Economist characterized Gen Z as “more educated and well-behaved, but more stressed and depressed than any generation” in comparison to previous ones. Their anxiety goes beyond gun violence, unfortunately; in the Information Age, young people are conscious of more than their own safety. As much as their parents have tried to employ more control to keep their children safe, this hyper-strict, helicopter monitoring of children (Because they are now more informed than ever before? In a backlash to an overload of technology? In response to school shootings?) has only surfaced their own concerns. And who are children if not emotional sponges? Anxiety surrounds us all, and children are no longer an exception.
Gen Zers are motivated, driven, passionate, and independent, and the first generation to grow up with internet technology from youth. The ubiquitous presence of devices and constant swaths of information are positioning technology as a zero-sum game. Researchers (and parents) are in a standoff about whether device use is contributing new layers to education with greater involvement in learning and access to content, or creating dependency, with its inherent isolation and lack of natural human connection and real-life experience.
Gen Zers also face unprecedented pressures to perform and present. There is not only stress to identify yourself with labels and individuality but to know yourself and display it. They’re on a constant search for authenticity and community. Time magazine presented research in 2018 about the lengths at which young people will go to reduce their “profound sense of vulnerability.” Their attempts to conquer this “unsafe” narrative only feed the pressure to get more likes, have the best grades, get into the best colleges, and meet all other metrics shoved down their throats to define their self-worth.
If Gen Z is “always connected,” why are anxiety and depression rates higher for their age group than before?
While once-marginalized (read: discriminated) communities were forced to re- main quiet and isolated, the internet has spawned communities for connection and support. People who felt “alone” and “different” can now connect with groups like never before. So then, why does the internet make everyone feel so lonely? Surely it is more than being bombarded with others’ curated lives on Instagram, since we know better (don’t we?). If Gen Z is “always connected,” why are anxiety and depression rates higher for their age group than before? Why isn’t the supposed support of these communities internalizing? Technology al- lows us to execute daily tasks more effectively and efficiently, yes, but it also reduces human interaction and limits the development of social skills (the ones we develop at the critical age that Gen Zers hold). Life is full of uncertainty and with- out real-world practice, coping mechanisms for that uncertainty are stifled. Couple that stunted experience with an inundation of traumatic news and a surrounding of perceived perfection of others. While more than half (55 percent) of Gen Zers say social media provides a feeling of support, just under half (40 per- cent) of Gen Zers report feeling bad about themselves as a result of social media use—they are stuck in a paradox. There you have the mental state of Gen Z.
Gen Zers are about action. They are the life-hackers who crowdsource $1 loans amongst friends on Venmo to “raise $20” (lenders willingly doing it, knowing their time will come when they need cash). When they can’t afford Uber, they use the sharing economy to be designated drivers among their friends. When they want privacy and closer experiences, they create fake private Instagram accounts (finstas) reserved only for their besties. They are resourceful and mindful, a powerful combination.
Fortunately, parent-child communication has been trending toward more open and honest, especially about mental health. As populations trend toward increased education, there are upsides: parents engage in more fluid conversation with their children about issues, and America’s youth tends to be less risk-averse. (They have a greater fear of debt, show reduced experimentation with alcohol and drugs, use seatbelts more, have lower incidents of teen pregnancy, and higher on-time high school graduation rates.) Gen Z is significantly more likely than previous generations to seek professional mental health support. Similar to Millennials, Gen Zers are outspoken—they have flooded the internet authoring articles and resources for one another. Consequently, Gen Z is sensitive and empathetic to discourse.
Gen Z (with Millennials, too) has leveraged social media to create spaces for communication and congregation in support of imperative purpose in hashtag activism: #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter #takeaknee #fakenews #marchforourlives.
This discourse represents the political action of Gen Z, perhaps the mark they will leave on history. This is not the first time our country has heard the voices of its youth—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War. There is precedent to successful political change at the behest of younger generations. Gen Z (with Millennials, too) has leveraged social media to create spaces for communication and congregation in support of imperative purpose in hashtag activism: #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter #takeaknee #fakenews #marchforourlives. On one hand, there is so much cause for fear that the overwhelm feeling is paralyzing. On the other hand, Gen Z is banding together, campaigning for causes close to their heart. The good news is, they’ve already proven to be up for the challenge.
Emily McNamara, Sr. ID Researcher , Hardware - Industrial Design
Curator of Pi // Patterns & Insights, Cameron Campbell, is a Design Forecaster, Curator and Strategist. Her key driver in life is to engage people and inspire creative growth through context, speculation, art, literature, objects, and technology. Want to know more about Pi? firstname.lastname@example.org