I was born in 1980, too young to be gen X, too old to be a millennial. Labels elude me. However, I do have the privilege of raising three kids that sit firmly in gen Z. They are also known as “zoomers”.
As the world watched two 70+ year old men fight for the top spot in America, the zoomers sat quietly with their headphones on, immersed in a world that has no more than a passing interest in politics. They have not been to proper school in over eight months. They are watching as their parents and grandparents argue over ballot counts, mean tweets, and the validity of lockdowns. It is somewhat fitting that the zoomers have been attending school via Zoom for most of 2020.
Their leaders are YouTube personalities barely old enough to drink. They bounce from game to game, changing Discord servers the way we used to change TV channels on Saturday morning. If you hear a collective groan in mid-November, it is not because election results came out, it is because one of their favorite YouTube channels is going “off the air” that day.
The Next Steps
The institutions created by our grandfathers, and held in high esteem by our fathers, are now crumbling in front of this generation before they are old enough to do anything about it. Their trust in these systems, if it ever existed, is likely to be near zero as they enter a world without the predetermined structure we had.
When we were in high school the talk was about good grades, Friday night football, and which college we were going to attend. It was always about preparing for the “next step.” There was a familiar rhythm to it. Some kids went to good colleges, some to local commuter schools, and others went straight to work in trades and labor.
Now high schoolers swap YouTube channels and talk about income streams, bitcoin, and Among Us. They hardly give a thought to race or religion; those are debates from another generation. They would likely be laughing at us, but there is a palpable nervousness as they come of age without a clear “next step” to guide them.
While millennials were slow to grow up as they came of age in the late stages of the post-World War II economic model, the zoomers will mature quickly as they realize they are the constructors of the new model. These kids are primed to BUILD. It might not be the infrastructure of the past, maybe not even deep space travel, but perhaps a digital economic system that nullifies the century old consumer goods and defense spending model.
They seem less interested in fast cars than fast video cards. They see the folly in social media fame and look deeper into the internet for smaller, more cohesive groups. They do not have to pick their friends from a pool of neighborhood kids they ride the bus with, they have the world to choose from.
This does not come without a downside. This generation, like all others, will have winners and losers. Some will succumb to the temptations of the darker sides of digital life. The distractions are too great. The disconnect from the physical realm is too severe for proper functioning.
Though the ones who find balance between online and off, who can manage both realities, the world really does become theirs.
We as millennials and Gen X can do them all a favor and clear away the deadwood and the cobwebs of the old system. As the last generation to grow up without a supercomputer in our hands we can ground them in our traditions of old, the ones that worked and stood the test of time. Strip away the old and make room for the new. By giving credit to the next generation, and support and encouragement, we can end the cycle of generational conflict that has repeated since the 1950s.
Blending Old and New
The boomers rebelled against the stifling control of the 50s housewife culture and began to tear the system down before it even lost that new car smell. Now the zoomers are doing the opposite. They are walking into a world void of most structure, with few customs to follow, and a vacuum of leadership that they will eagerly fill.
Let us not burden them with, or make them pawns of, our political ideologies. I have largely shielded my kids from the political turmoil this year. When they get too worked up, I simply ask them about the latest game or YouTube video of interest, and they excitedly share and move on.
Let us build real world traditions with them. Analog family game nights. Evening walks under the stars. Screen free Sundays. Keep them grounded as a foundation for a future we can only begin to imagine. A safe, secure home they can always come back to. And when they are immersed in the digital world, put a hand on their shoulder and say, “are you winning son?”
Read more at markallanbovair.substack.com.