Gen Z will be OK

Richard Stanfield, Guest Columnist

In the past few months, there have been news articles and any number of talking heads going on and on about how students after Parkland are starting to become politically active. Many publications wrote of the National School Walkout on March 14.

The New York Times noted that the students’ conviction to bring about change came from the awful events at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. The Times described the participants as “eloquent young voices, equipped with symbolism and social media savvy, riding a resolve as yet untouched by cynicism.” Many other media outlets, from Fox News to Al Jazeera covered the protests in a similar manner.

They marveled at the awakening of this, presumably, previously sleeping student body. I have news for them — they have been “woke” for quite some time now. As a returning (you can read old) student, I have been interacting with Millennial and Gen Z college students for the past few years. When I first came to LMC, I fully believed the Baby Boomer and mature generations portrayal of the youth of today as being dependent, needy, unprepared or unequipped, entitled, lazy, unfocused, and, worse of all, disrespectful. All of this for me has been systematically disproved from the very first day I actually talked with my newfound peers. 

The students noted by The Times did not happen suddenly, as if they awoke and sprang forward, fully formed and functioning. Give me a break. All of these voices in this newfound mass demanding change are not instantaneous creations. Hey old people, they have always been there – you just never bothered to listen.

Why the public at large is surprised about these “eloquent young voices” is beyond me. We are talking about a group that grew up connected. Phones are not tools or devices, as much as an integral part of their communication apparatus, links to their networked lives. These young adults have always had instant access to information and constant communication with their peers, near or far.

They talk online with “friends” from around the world, relegating borders to mere constructs. We are talking about a generation that knows all about the systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia that we “adults” have wrought in the world they must now inhabit. They themselves, or vicariously through someone they know, have experienced the pain of discrimination and hate. It is no longer just a news story when Trayvon Martin could very well be any number of their friends.  Add to this, growing up with active shooter drills right along with fire and earthquake and playground safety talks. This gives you a generation of people that know intimately what older generations cannot bring themselves to discuss. 

It astounds me how many of my generation still insist that the world is doomed. That the future generation is not going to be able to handle it. It is true the world is far more dangerous, confusing and scary than it ever was when we were young. This is a world of conflict, depleted resources, unequal economics, diminished security and random horrendous acts perpetrated on innocents. It so frightens us we think (with dismissive arrogance) that they, our young, will not be able to handle “it.” 

However, consider the obvious, that Gen Z is the first of the digital natives. My generation has been outmaneuvered at every turn. Growing up they figured out our passwords, retained SIM cards when we confiscated devices, and circumvented our puny parental locks. They wield tech easily; simultaneously surfing the web, chatting with friends, snapping a selfie, organize a weekend, all the while we fumble with sending a single grammatically correct text. A telling example is Mr. Hogg. In one weekend, he took on Laura Ingraham.

He did so in an afternoon, and easily ran circles around her. Playing social media with ease he attacked the holy of holies – that sacrosanct advertising revenue stream. And he won, is he exceptional? Probably so, however, he’s not unique. I’ve met amazing students who I know will do amazing things.

So to that my aged brethren, stop worrying about the younger generation’s survival. They will be fine. Lucky for us, they are mostly good, caring and decent people. I suggest you take a good look at the world we are leaving them and hope they don’t hold a grudge.