While debate over what to call them continues, most people agree that Generation Z covers anyone born from 1997 onwards, making the oldest among them 21 in 2018. So why the building buzz about a bunch of teenagers on their way to 21? And what makes this generation of kids so much more serious than the millennial generation that preceded them?
Before we get into the changes being shaped by this Australian generation, let’s start with some context.
Birthed of a land ruled by an old white dude who listened to the wireless
In the year 1997, the first of Gen Z (as we’ll call them) were born into a conservative Australia ruled by Prime Minister John Howard. In many ways, 1997 was a sign of things to come. Australia was preparing for a vote on the Republic, Independent MP Pauline Hanson launched her One Nation political party, Tasmania decriminalised homosexuality, Telstra listed on the Australian stock exchange and 640,000 weapons were surrendered across Australia in the nation-wide guns buyback scheme. In some ways, these kids were born into a country on the cusp of being the best and worst it could be over the next 21 years.
Even the oldest of these kids, the 21-year-olds, have experienced no less than five Prime Ministers so far in their lifetime. They could be forgiven for being over it (heck, we the grownups, sure are over it.) But where weariness has set in for the rest of us, maybe these kids are too young to surrender to an is what it is way of political life, national debate and leadership in Australia. While many of us tune out, watch Netflix and wish our parents never forced us onto the electoral role in the first place, these kids are galvanising in ways we haven’t seen previously.
But we all believed we could change the world back then, so what makes Gen Z different? To answer that we needed to find one to talk too. And on that note, meet 17 year-old Minnie Nancarrow.
A Conversation with Generation Z
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m currently in my final year of high school completing the International baccalaureate diploma. I’m still undecided about what course or university I plan to go to but it will probably be something in the arts field.
What are some of the things you are really passionate about?
One of the things I’m passionate about is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander equality. Today there is serious social, economic and cultural inequalities for First Nations people, such as higher rates of infant mortality and lower levels of education and unemployment. Another issue I’m passionate about is climate change and other environmental issues; if we destroy the earth we destroy ourselves.
What are some of the things you worry about?
Often, I worry about the impact we are making on the planet. We consume so much more than we need to and I worry that eventually we will reach a point of no return. I also worry about the hate that is out in the world and the actions taken by people that are filled with hate.
What inspires you?
Mostly it’s the people around me, so this includes my family, friends and peers at school. The action being taken at school is super inspiring and even day-to-day discussions about issues that face our generations inspire thought and reflection.
What are your thoughts about social media?
Personally, I think social media is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it creates a space for social movements such as #metoo and helps to create communities. It can create connections with people you wouldn’t be able to meet in real-life in terms of both personal relationships and relationships for small businesses and artists.
On the other hand, it can create self-doubt as you fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others online. Although it’s hard, it’s important to remember that they are portraying only the best version of themselves online and most likely spend hours deciding what to post and when. Another unfortunate aspect is that people can take what they see on social media as the truth. Often, we get caught in a cycle of the same type of information, meaning our biases and values remain the same, rather than expanding and evolving.
Have you ever volunteered for anything?
I volunteered at the Sacred Heart Opshop in Elsternwick for around a year and I have done smaller volunteering jobs for foundations and organisations such as the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.
What is your favourite school subject?
My favourite subject is visual arts. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s an opportunity to disengage from all the academic work in my other subjects and explore my own thoughts and feelings.
How do you think your generation will make a difference?
I hope that my generation will feel obligated to make change. The nature of the internet and social media is that as soon as something happens and is put online the entire world finds out immediately; we are always connected to each other and we feel as though it is affecting us and therefore we feel obligated to do something about it. I think we feel obligated to strive for equality as we are aware of the multitude of issues facing our generation and therefore we will try to enact change on a smaller scale by changing behaviours and routines.
Fictional heroes include Carmen Cortez, Imperator Furiosa and Luna Lovegood and real-life heroes include Jane Goodall, Frida Kahlo, Ana Mendieta and Björk. Villains include Donald Trump and the Adani group!
If you could have a message for your grown-up self at 30, what would it be?
Stop doubting yourself!
Always give time, energy and love to others.
Don’t take what you have for granted.
A few final thoughts
When I used talk to young people, especially kids under under 20, I’d think the ones who wanted to change the world had a sweet innocence about them. But not these kids. Pragmatic activism is a key theme here. The ones I have had the pleasure of hanging out with, or the ones whose achievements I’ve read about, have taken me aback with their knowledge of the world beyond their day-to-day existence, the comfort many of them have in their own skin and, often, their lack of bias.
Happily, these kids are reinventing the hustle. They call out dumb. They know stupid. They’re impatient for change and understand they have to take action to live in the kind of world they want to live in. And how fantastic is that? We can only hope.
Words by Minnie Nancarrow and Cath Pope