“Each successive generation tries to learn from previous mistakes and pushes the course of history in a better direction. And the only thing that stops that is if people start thinking that they don’t make a difference and they can’t make changes.” - Barack Obama
Obama said these words not as part of his State Of The Union address, nor in front of the United Nations, but to an audience of tumblr users invited for a Q&A at the White House. While the president is getting ready to leave the Oval Office in November, he is not only preparing to hand over power to the next president of the United States, but to pass the torch to the next generation of changemakers and decision takers around the world: generation Z. Us. We are the generation that is responsible for our future, and his message to us is clear: You have to fight like hell to change the world, so don’t give up!
The last eight years have seen massive upheaval at home and around the world, with riots in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, escalating concerns about climate change, and ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, but also massive strides forward in terms of social equality, healthcare and LGBT rights. Born into a world pockmarked by inequality and reeling from the threats of global terror and a crippling financial crisis, Gen Z shares one common purpose: Make the world a better place.
Bursting onto the scene at the turn of the 21st century, Gen Z is defined by its drive to take action, its maturity, and its celebration of individuality under the banner of togetherness, rather than tolerance. What makes us different ties us together. It is community-focused, technologically savvy and, above all, motivated to embrace a new future defined by social justice and global advancement.
This new generation is depicted in the widely popular young-adult literature and movies which have swept bookshelves and cinema screens over the past few years. Through the politics of The Divergent Series, we see an impressive vision of Generation Z's potential and, just like Tris and her cohorts, we are only just getting started!
The kids of Generation Z lived their formative years after the financial crises of 2000 and 2008, and their attitudes seem to reflect this hardship. While millennials are stereotyped as being apathetic, dependent and completely self-involved, Gen Z hasn't had the luxury of a culture of opportunity.
According to a Sparks & Honey trend report titled "Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials":
Gen Z were developing their personalities and life skills in a socioeconomic environment marked by chaos, uncertainty, volatility and complexity.
However, this climate of unpredictability has given way to a bold and commanding human force; a group of young people who are galvanized to change their world. This is why Forbes has given Gen Z the title "Rebels With A Cause," alluding to their bravery and self-awareness:
Despite the frightening times they’ve faced, only 6% of Zs are fearful about the future. Having grown up amid major innovation and social change, Zs are inquisitive and globally aware.
In the face of strife, this generation has discovered its own power.
Generation Z-ers are acutely aware of the problems facing their society, but it isn't only fearlessness that energizes them. They rebuke individualism for a more empathetic worldview and this emotional intelligence is fueling the kind of activism that aims to revamp social constructs.
As Christine Horner writes in The Huffington Post:
If we are interconnected, it means we're interdependent. If humanity hopes to end chronic poverty for half the world's population, we will be required to dramatically change the way we live on this planet. Indeed, the continuation of the species as a whole depends upon it.
Gen Z widely feels a sense of social responsibility to collaborate and has helped make crowd funding, open sourcing and social sharing new norms in our society.
In order to be a truly peaceful society, inclusive multiculturalism is a necessity. As the United States sees seismic shifts in its ethnic makeup, Generation Z is perfectly primed to mold the country to be a diverse force for change.
According to the Census Bureau, the country's Hispanic population increased at a rate four times that of the total population between 2000 and 2010. The population of those who self-identify as white-and-black biracial has risen by 134 percent. The number of those who class themselves as mixed white and of Asian descent relatedly multiplied by 87 percent.
In short, while we are hearing rhetoric that calls for closing borders and building walls, we are simultaneously living a reality influenced by multiculturalism. We are not defined by a single race or ethnicity, and therefore will redefine how businesses and politicians choose to categorize people. Through increasing diversity and use of the Internet (more on that later), Generation Z refuses to ignore racial inequalities and has made it a priority to change them.
When the average person thinks of Generation Z, the natural association of technology crops up. It is the first generation to grow up in a world where Internet access is treated like a basic human right, and they have thrived because of it.
The way Gen Z sees the world really does center around pragmatism and education. Or, as Jenn Little from Voices Of Youth puts it:
There is no excuse not to learn something because of the internet.
In fact, Gen Z-ers are often defined by their maturity and desire for control over their own lives. One study by the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention found that Gen Z teens are far less likely to get into a physical fight or try e-cigarettes compared to their millennial counterparts when they were the same age. They commit themselves to learning what is right and hold others accountable, and they remain vigilantly connected through their phones and computers.
Due to the constant connectivity of the Internet and the vast world of social media, Gen Z has learned faster than any other generation about the importance of transparency. With its deftness in using the tools that generate awareness, specifically social media, Gen Z is able to give a voice to oppressed groups and push for truth.
For example, in a piece by Amelia Abraham in i-D, transgender activist Rowan Davis discusses how Gen Z directly concerns itself with making the world pay attention to the social issues from which it attempts to hide. Davis references Leelah Alcorn, a trans 17-year-old who committed suicide as a result of her family disavowing her transition:
"Through community-building websites like Tumblr and Twitter she was given a platform from which she could be heard, the internet is really important for that - for taking marginalised groups and giving them power."
Where other generations have been derailed by setbacks or sidetracked by contemporary events along the route to their goals, Gen Z has the skills and qualities to stay on target and use its boundless energy and feeling of social responsibility to create a better future for everyone. Obama's final words of advice from his Tumblr Q&A are like a rallying call to us all: Don't get cynical. Don't let all that other stuff get in the way; we can do it.
From trans rights to wider social inequality and beyond, the priority for Gen Z is to change the world, starting with speaking our truth. The Divergent Series may depict a far-off dystopian future, but its framework of rebellion perfectly illustrates how the newest generation is determined to break down barriers — and the world better start taking notice.
'The Divergent Series: Allegiant' hits theaters on March 18!