The Fierce Urgency of Gen Z | Sojourners

The Fierce Urgency of Gen Z

In an age of instant experience, why does social change take so long?
Illustration by Michael George Haddad

I CAN NAME Emma’s favorite foods: roasted sweet potatoes and acai smoothie bowls. I’ve spent hours with her two sisters and classmates. We’ve traveled across the country together and danced to all her most-loved songs.

Week after week, with one tap on my screen, I instantly enter Emma’s world. As we laugh and smile at each other, it feels as if I am spending time with a friend, albeit a virtual one.

Emma Abrahamson is one of the countless Generation Z video bloggers on YouTube (some with tens of millions of followers) who are re-creating the nature of human friendship and experience.

The next presidential election will include a wave of Gen Zers voting for the first time. Who are they? What do they care about?

Beginning with those born in 1995, the same year as the commercial internet, Gen Zers only know a life of navigating multiple realities. While I (a millennial) am part of the generation shaped by the arrival of instant communication, Gen Z is the generation shaped by the arrival of instant experience. They are constantly living on the cusp of the virtual and the physical—and, just like Emma, draw the rest of us in.

Some worry that such a technology-centered existence, filled with YouTube friends and instantaneous everything, leaves young people isolated and ill-equipped to live with uncertainty. Researchers claim it is leading to the highest rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide ever recorded.

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