Twenty years ago, when I was busy shunting my girls between the Talkatora Stadium and the Kathak Kendra, I wouldn’t have known I would be allaying their climate anxiety two decades later, stuck inside a house with them during the lockdown. Time and again, the older of them has urged us to invest in a place far away over the hills. The idea of digging trenches to escape climatic hell is very present and real in her head. But we have the typical inertia of the boomers. I would never have bargained for the social media activism of the teens we are seeing today. They were supposed to be reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. When did they become so ready to take over the crown from the millennials? And ready they are.
They are here, all ready to redefine political movements, religion, popular culture, and values. Known as Generation Z — born between 1995 and 2012 — they are the world’s first truly connected generation but with the mandate of maintaining physical social distancing and they are, at this very moment living to tell the tale of one of the globe’s greatest pandemics. Change seems to be a bigger constant in their lives than any other generation gone by. Digital natives, masters at filtering, and inheritors of great economic distress are the Gen Z.
According to a 2019 Bloomberg report, Gen Z makes up for 32 percent of the global population, with India’s Gen Z population at 472 million. This generation is described as the counterfoil to the dreamy millennials. Raised by Gen X, they are seen as being self-reliant. A theory has it that they prefer skills over paycheque, experiences over career, and have little patience for societal norms or parental approvals. They have already given an account of themselves on the scale of responsibility. In fact, some of them had begun to worry about the COVID-19 even before India had its first case because there was severe anxiety over the country’s perceived inability to deal with it.
Isolation. Apocalypse. I have heard these words from my children.One of them has felt caged during the lockdown, not being able to cross interstate borders on drives. But I do believe that in the zoomers, the millennials have met more than a match in stubbornness. Here is a generation as bent upon, if not more, on not compromising on their aspirations to match the much-touted notions of reality. Their smartphones are their umbilical cords and their Snapchat is chill. For this wired generation, real-world friendships begin with social media profiling. The online world does seem far more significant to them than the physical world and there is none of the older generation’s skepticism. They also do not appear to be as smitten by celebrities as those gone before. Their own individuality is important to them.
According to Shiv Visvanathan, eminent social scientist and Director, Centre for the Study of Knowledge Systems, OP Jindal Global University, Gen Z is “part hypothesis, part fiction, part reality”. He argues how the generation “has been launched but not quite arrived”. “The core character of this generation is that it was launched like a piece of technology, a part of the innovation chain rather than of a generational cycle. Its appeal is newness, a lack of memory, where there is little or nothing of the burden of history,” he adds.
Do the zoomers realize they are a privileged lot? Do they appreciate that some brave millennials paved the way for their easy participation in Pride Parades? Do they see that it indeed is possible for them to change the world, one day at a time? Do they note how unique they are in being the youngest generational breed of writers releasing their novels and books with enviable aplomb?
This is a breed that is well-informed. “They do not accept anything on its face value whether it is religion, culture, or education. A generation, which is focused more on better services than products,” says Sharma of Corepeeler Foundation. They are also greatly aware of their environment. Open-minded and willing to correct the mistakes of their previous generations, the climate emergency movement is mostly made up of the younger generation — 20-year-olds that are willing to make changes in their lifestyles. They, after all, have had to learn and discover a whole lot all by themselves.
According to the latest UN figures, India is home to the world’s largest youth population. Almost 600 million are below the age of 25, which is half of the country’s population. Of India’s 1.3 billion population, 27 percent is between the age of 10–24 years which roughly translates to the country’s Gen Z population. They are growing up in a participative economy. Technology has democratized their existence and replaced the silver spoon with the idea of a tech fork. More solo in temperament than the millennials, the zoomers are entrepreneurial, multitasking, and pragmatic. And what they are looking for is flexibility, openness, and meaningfulness in the kind of work they’re being assigned. It is no longer just about survival or work-life balance; it is more about making meaningful contributions in their roles.
Youthfully arrogant and a trifle impatient the zoomers will want to rule the world on their own terms. Rational far more than religious, they are at ease with relationships and happy to participate in dialogues. Does peer pressure look like becoming redundant? Unbelievable. Self-expression, co-living, and co-working come naturally to them. Their fundamental belief in co-existing is what makes them co-creators for the brands.
But conversations around Gen Z are not yet psychologiolzed and still need to be given a perspective, a history, and a profile. “For now it has no biography, everything about it is conjecture. It still has to be sociologized,” says Visvanathan, and cites how this generation has no role models or exemplars and is waiting to invent itself. “It is the emptiest of the literary fiction created. It needs to grow. It is the future that has to unfold as biography,” he adds.
Dua Lipa’s song sure sits easy on them, “Walk away, you know how… Don’t start caring about me now”.