You know the names Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, Billie Eilish and Simone Biles. You know what they’ve accomplished and how they’re changing the world. But the reality is the world is being reinvented every day by their entire postmillennial generation.
Who is Generation Z? You’re about to find out.
Generation Z — born in 1997 or after — is already transforming the culture and identity of the United States, and the members of the world’s youngest generation are only just getting started.
M Valladolid, a 19-year-old who lives in Hillcrest, California, summed it up as well as anyone: “Gen Z is revolutionary, excited, prepared, most importantly capable and just in general, fired up and ready.”
This generation is like other generations in that it has big ideas and bigger plans for the country. But it’s different than other generations, too. It’s already made history, and the oldest members are only 23.
Generation Z is America’s most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever, and that’s bound to have implications, from pop culture to politics. The United States is expected to be minority white within 25 years. And the U.S. Census announced this year that the population under 16 years old is already majority nonwhite.
Experts say the time to start adjusting to the way Generation Z will change the country is now.
This generation is also on track to be the most educated in our nation’s history. And these accolades aren’t even getting into their influence on public discourse and policy or the way their digital literacy and connectedness is changing the culture, the workforce and the way our society communicates as a whole.
“We’re not all one thing. We’re the TikTok generation and we’re also the protest generation,” said Endiya Griffin, an 18-year-old who lives in central San Diego. “We are everything at once.”
They’ve been known to organize massive racial justice and climate protests with their smartphones in hours or days. And now they’re navigating a pandemic that is changing the way they view their schools systems and their government.
“We see the problems that are going on, and we’re eager to solve these issues,” said Gael Aitor, a member of Generation Z who hosts a popular podcast called Teenager Therapy. “Our generation will definitely set a new bar for what kind of values people should hold.”
Join us for “Hello Gen Z,” a new podcast from The San Diego Union-Tribune, to hear directly from them. With the help of expert voices from the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center and conversations with dozens of members of Gen Z, you’ll hear this generation’s thoughts on identity, culture, politics, mental health, the virtual reality they keep reinventing, and so much more.
“It’s more of a generation with blurred race lines, blurred gender, blurred sex lines,” said Emily Johnson, who ran for mayor of Poway, California — at the age of 20! — in the 2018 election.
Members of Generation Z are also ready to correct your misconceptions. A lot of them said older generations think they’re lazy and obsessed with their phones when in reality they say they’re using their phones to be informed and organized.
“The main misconception is probably that we are bound to our devices and that we mindlessly follow woke culture without fully interrogating those issues,” said Crystal Sung, a sophomore at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, who is originally from Escondido, California.
Their digital prowess is what sets them apart, even from millennials who grew up with computers. For Gen Z, the issues that might otherwise have been left to adults and older generations are front and center for them on YouTube, TikTok and everywhere else they spend time online.
“I think every generation thinks that things are worse for either their particular generation or the next generation,” said Linda Olszewski, a doctor of psychology at Pace University in New York City. “Everybody feels anxiety about these things, but it seems like Gen Z can’t escape them.”
In recent years, the country has seen just how intense social media can be in the era of Gen Z. #MeToo blew up on social media, and had ramifications for powerful men and women in every industry. People across the country watched the viral video of George Floyd dying in police custody with an officer’s knee on his neck.
“My generation is so well connected and so strong on this because we’re all holding each other accountable, and we’re seeing it more than ever and we’re using social media to that power,” said Nikki Sanchez, who has helped organize protests for racial justice in San Diego. “We’re using social media to out people, we’re using social media to spread awareness.”
The first episode of “Hello Gen Z” came out on July 23, and you can find it wherever you get your podcasts. Check out new episodes every Thursday for the next two months. And say hello to Gen Z.