Gen Z — The Global Generation
What does Generation Z stand for? For self-realization, success; for everyday life on the Internet and unlimited possibilities. But this hyperconnected generation also grapples with unprecedented stress. What’s it like to grow up in the age of cultural diversity, gender issues and globalization?
If you type Gen Z into Google, the first thing that comes up is the Wikipedia entry. It lists the behavior of "typical Z-ers" based on the book Me, My Selfie and I by Jean Twenge. Young people born between 2000 and 2012 are slower to grow up. Almost none of them aspire to be self-sufficient anymore. Hardly any of them think about financial security or plan to start a family. "Z-ers" rarely go to parties anymore, have less sex, drink almost no alcohol. They spend most of their time in the virtual world.
If I were to take all these statements seriously, neither I nor any other young people I know personally would be "typical Z-ers." Of course, the Internet is a big part of our everyday lives. But the Internet hasn’t replaced physical reality: it has stretched it to impossible lengths.
Gen Z – We are the first generation for whom Dubai is just as close as the nearest village. The first generation who can study at LMU Munich from China. I myself go to the office several times a week for my internship, but I could just as easily work from home. In the evenings, I watch one of countless Spanish, American or German Netflix series or talk to my best friend on the phone. He's in Athens right now, taking online classes: his school in Chester is closed at the moment. He tells me about his virtual singing or sports lessons. They're still going on, despite a 2000-mile distance. (Have you ever tried to do physical education with your teacher in England? Apparently it’s kind of awkward.) It doesn't matter which app we use, as long as we can stay in each other’s lives. Sometimes we talk on WhatsApp, have a classic Zoom call or a Houseparty. Anything is possible on the Internet.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. We’re growing up in an age where you can reach people from India, Australia or Canada with just one click, and one thing counts above all else: keeping up with the rest of the planet. Trends go viral internationally. If you want to be "in," you have to join in, no matter which corner of the world you happen to occupy. You have to buy the “TikTok leggings”, do the "Silhoutte Challenge," or dance to "Dior” by Pop Smoke. All of a sudden, girls from every country are wearing oversize like Billie Eilish, and guys are painting their fingernails. Their fabulous looks are all over Insta. A worldwide spotlight – how enticing for teenagers. And how intimidating.
The Internet leaves nowhere to hide. It moves fast, it makes us want everything. Preferably right away: we want to party, we want to look good at all times, we want to stand out, we want money – despite what Jean Twenge thinks, we want to grow up as fast as possible. We're all on LinkedIn, the digital career platform. Resumes and detailed accomplishments available at a glance. Where have you been? Who do you know? What have you done so far?
A whole year off? Wasted.
We have an urge to be successful. We learn to use Snapchat, Instagram & Co. from the crib; to showcase ourselves, and to compare ourselves with others. In the 21st century, you're no longer competing with the neighborhood kids. Suddenly, you have to compete against all of humanity. It's not enough to learn a little English in addition to your native language. No, you better speak French, Spanish, Russian or maybe even Chinese. Fluently. Graduation with top grades, please. From Harvard, Yale or Oxford. If you don't have all that, someone else will come along who does – who cares where from. National borders no longer get in the way of your success. So there’s really no excuse to limit your potential.
The pressure is high, but we Gen Z-ers are more connected than ever before. We learn about new cultures, new opinions, and new role models. We seek inspiration and motivation. This is what makes us so incredibly open to the unknown; a generation in which everyone has the chance to find themselves, even in this clutter of FOMO and constant comparison. A generation where you learn to fight for yourself.
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