Last summer, as I walked down the cobblestone streets of a bustling Venice, a poster taped snugly onto a Vaporetto stop caught my eye. Bright pink with a serif font and its corners waving effortlessly in the breeze, I read the words, May You Live In Interesting Times, and could not help but mull over them. What was such an ominous saying doing in such a bright place? I could not be sure.
Although I now know that this poster was an advertisement for the 2019 Biennale and that this phrase is a fairly common saying, the words stuck with me, and still do today. I did not know it at the time, but just a few short months later, in 2020, I would be living out those “interesting times” over and over and over again.
Between a vicious pandemic with no end in sight, a brutal fight against racial injustice and now a looming recession, the little pink poster was prophesying something. And it was much more menacing than its fragile 8.5-by-11 frame let on.
But, as the leaves begin to turn and the temperature grows cool, it feels as though an end to this painful year may finally be in sight. Yet, I do not feel relieved, calm or even remotely excited. In fact, my anxiety about our collective future is at an all-time high. After all, feeling at ease could not be more impossible knowing that we still have one more battle left to face, and that this one means it all…
Yes, the big race feels particularly daunting this election year, and as a young person who understands how important their role is in shaping this country’s future, I am beginning to shake under the pressure. As it turns out, the weight of our American world is actually pretty heavy, and my generation is being thrown into its chaos at full force.
Although the youngest of Generation Z is still made up of awkward middle schoolers and bubbly six-year-olds, those of us who have graduated high school tend to be pretty disapproving of the way this country has been run up to this point. In 2018, the Pew Research Center conducted a study polling Gen Zers. Of the individuals polled, 70% felt that the government should be doing more to solve America’s problems, 54% believed that climate change is a result of man-made environmental damage and 77% did not approve of the way Donald Trump has been running the country. Gen Z also knew more people with gender-neutral pronouns than any other generation, did not believe that the US is superior to other nations and felt that Blacks are treated much more unfairly in the US than whites. As @L_nked put it on Twitter, “Generation Z will be afraid to ask a waiter for ranch but will body slam a cop.”
Thus, we have made countless headlines for our progressive political views — often much to the dismay of older generations. But we are also famous for being really good at something else, and it dictates our entire being: The Internet.
As the first “digital natives,” we preferred to explore the world through the comfort of our parents’ clunky PCs before ever stepping a foot outside, and we replaced Saturday morning cartoons with Snapchat filters, memes and VSCO presets a long time ago. We grew up with technology, and it continues to shape us well into adulthood.
But, the most important trait of belonging to such a unique generation has not been our unmatched digital proficiency, but rather, our unmatched ability to remain informed… constantly.
We are leading the war on conservative thinking, and for many of us, social media has been our weapon of choice. When millions and millions of articles, photos and videos lie at your fingertips constantly, you are not only able to bridge information gaps, but you are also able to discover things you never even knew existed.
As a result, America is seeing more and more young people engage with the world — and not the glossy, boy-meets-girl-and-it-all-works-out version that Saved By The Bell taught our parents. Our rose-tinted glasses shattered prematurely, long before many of us even approached the age of vision loss, thanks to the violent police murders, unbelievable forest fires and horrific school shootings we watch daily. It is undeniable that the America we consume is a much more raw version than the one our parents were served on a silver platter. It only makes sense why we have developed such a bad taste in our mouths.
But the question here is not whether or not we are living in an information renaissance. Instead, it is whether or not this progress is a good thing. It certainly is not for our minds, as Gen Z consistently has a higher rate of mental illness than any other generation.
But for the future of this country? It could be.
Social media has given us a gift that no other generation has ever come close to receiving: the power to see our society’s inner workings from every angle. This unique perspective, coupled with the freedom of youth — that once-in-a-lifetime superpower to observe the world around you in all your invincible glory without much regard to your present or to your future — gives us a distinctive capacity to see things that we would otherwise miss. And when you look hard enough, you begin to realize that America has a lot of blemishes.
So, sure, we may be young, but we are not naive. Instead, we are curious. We are empathetic. We are self-aware.
We are not too indoctrinated to see things how they really are.
And more importantly, we are not afraid to ask how they can be changed.
So, what does Gen Z want moving forward? What kind of world could we possibly be hoping to rebuild for ourselves when we have been forced to work with the corroding materials of capitalism, imperialism and ultranationalism that previous generations of Americans left behind for us? How do we expect to repair our broken society when we live at this strange intersection of time where one click allows us to know everything about another human’s life, but nothing about what it actually means to be human?
As I try my hardest to squint through the polarization that paints my reality red, then, it becomes painfully obvious that we do live in interesting times. Times in which many Americans would rather dismiss the existence of our country’s deepest problems and the struggles they create for our most vulnerable populations, as long as it means they can feel any sense of superiority afterward, no matter how fleeting.
So, maybe many do look to Gen Z as a generation already too far gone. One with their heads stuck in the clouds and their feet cemented firmly in hell after falling so far from America’s favorite trifecta of Jesus, family and hard work.
But what if I told you that Gen Z, with our open minds, fierce independence and compassionate hearts, had the power to change the course of this country before it derails itself from the tracks of democracy for good?
Seeing as we are slated to make up about 10% of voters this election, we very well could.
And I hope the world is ready.
Coulture’s mission statement says that we aim to be a magazine for people of all shapes and sizes, for those who speak up and stand out. We recognize that it is important to hear from people with personal views, strong perspectives, and something to say. This article is part of Coulture’s “What I’m Voting For” initiative where members write about the issues they care about in the 2020 election.