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18th November 2020

Gen Z: If we are the virus, they are the vaccine

Aimee Butler explains how Gen Z are more politically engaged than ever, and how they are using technology to make a difference
Gen Z: If we are the virus, they are the vaccine
William Helmert @ Flickr

Imagine a world with no adults, only children. What would it be like? To ask this of a Millennial would incur a typical range of responses along a similar wavelength: chaos, carnage and confusion.

To imagine a younger generation in charge invites alarming images of kids running amok and breaking rules, but in frequent years, this view has started to change.

Generation Z is the term used to describe the demographic cohort that succeeds Millennials. Other takes on the label include iGen, Post Millennials and Zoomers – a play on the term Boomers, which is used to describe those born between 1944 and 1964. Gen Z refers to those born between 1997 and 2015, with ages ranging from 5 to 23 years old.

Members of Gen Z were born into a world of technological prowess and advancement; an age where phones, computers and televisions are present in almost all households, and data on every person in the world is available at the click of a button.

This has resulted in Gen Z constantly being referred to as lazy and addicted to their screens, unable to do social interaction if it is not via Instagram or Snapchat. Others have taken the criticisms of Millennials and nicknamed the young people ‘Millennials on steroids’.

However, despite criticism and their brevity of time on Earth, Gen Z have taken the world by storm and show no intention of stopping. From organising protests in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, to gate-crashing President Trump’s rally, Gen Z-ers are demonstrating time and time again that they are a force to be reckoned with.

As a user of the immensely popular and prominent video sharing app TikTok, I am no stranger to knowing what kind of an impact viral ideas and videos can have. For example, US President Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally, intended to mark the beginning of his 2020 election campaign, was gate-crashed by an army of invisible TikTok users that had reserved tickets for the event with no intention of attending.

The president and his officials tried to blame the poor attendance of the rally on fears of the current coronavirus pandemic, however, this didn’t stop the hundreds of teenagers responsible around the world relishing in the glory and success of what they had pulled off from behind their screens.

The rally is only one of the most recent achievements Gen Z have under their belts. Last year, the plight to tackle climate change gained a vast amount of attention, thanks to teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

Along with the 17-year old’s outstanding influence, young people across the globe walked out of school every Friday and protest against the government’s lack of action to halt global warming. This became known as the ‘Greta Effect’.

The ‘Greta Effect’ refers to the ever-rising number of children using social media for activism purposes and is another great example of the strength of this generation. More than 1.4 million school students took part in the school strikes for climate change Greta set up.

Gen Z is known for being the most diverse and accepting generation, avoiding labels and attacking stigmas over taboo topics. Their ability to challenge criticism with a highly educated response or a simple ‘OK Boomer’ (a catchphrase and meme popular among adults and teens in Gen Z that is used as a retort to dismiss or mock attitudes from the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation) has brought about the question: could Gen Z be exactly what the world needs?

In today’s day and age and amidst the current ongoing coronavirus pandemic, government leadership has never been more in question. The main goal of each of today’s young activists and leaders is the same – to demand that the people in charge step up, take responsibility and act.

Time and time again, the leaders of the world have shown that they have different priorities, meaning Gen Z have had to take matters into their own hands.

Greta Thunberg started her climate strikes at the age of 15, and David Hogg started protesting the funding of the NRA in America at the age of 18. Children and young adults of varying ages are not staying quiet about topical issues anymore and are using their voices and easy access to mass audiences via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to spread messages and ideas across the globe.

It can be said that perhaps, the very technology Gen Z is said to be obsessed with is actually their weapon.

The strength of the generation is undeniable. They are innovative, confident, educated and eloquent. They can destroy careers and ruin reputations with the rise of ‘cancel culture’ and are not afraid to back down in the face of those in charge.

I believe the characteristics of this generation are unlike any other and with the world at their feet (and their fingertips), who knows what they’ll be pulling off next?

Aimee Butler

Aimee Butler

Third year BA History student

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