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By Charlie Galea ‘Our Generation’ – What’s wrong with Gen Z?

Defining trends

Last month TPL took a trip to the Dorfman Theatre on London’s South Bank to see a new play, ‘Our Generation’ by Alecky Blythe. It offers authentic accounts of twelve young people in Britain as they navigate their teenage years, ultimately interrupted by the global pandemic. The play transforms hundreds of hours of recorded interviews with the teens into one cohesive piece, exploring themes that you might commonly associate with young people. I’m rating each theme out of 5 to tell you whether they really represent Gen Z or if they’re barking up the wrong generational tree, in order to assess how effectively the play demonstrates the issues facing young people.

Phones: we can’t stop using them

1 Phones: we can’t stop using them

Summary: Smartphones and social media were inescapable in the play. The cliché of “digital native” for these teens certainly rang true; at one point the characters break into an impromptu dance sequence with each shouting out how important their phones are to them. Robyn claims that being without her phone triggers her ‘FOMO’ (the fear of missing out), but that constantly scrolling through social media reinforces an unrealistic beauty image for young girls. This is also seen with Mia, who enthusiastically boasts of her Snapchat ‘streaks’ and her use of all the social media ‘classics’ (Facebook and Instagram); however, she later claims all her problems would be solved by getting rid of her phone.

GEN Z RATING: 4/5

Comments: As a weathered victim of phone addiction, I can vouch for its huge prevalence amongst kids and young people. The older reader may roll their eyes at this, but it’s widely believed that excessive screen time has a negative impact on young people’s mental health. This has been compounded by the pandemic, with studies showing that 80% of young people claimed that lockdown had made their mental health worse. In response to this, some have chosen to do a ‘digital detox’, minimising their phone use and deleting their social media apps. What’s my excuse? I like to justify excessive screen time and scrolling with the affirmation that I’m frequently reading intellectually enriching articles. Unfortunately, more often than not, I’m mindlessly permitting YouTube’s auto-play feature to drag me deeper into the depths of algorithmic hell.

Big dreams bigger problems

2 Big dreams, bigger problems

Summary: ‘Our Generation’ doesn’t exactly sell dreams of success and prosperity for all young people, but it does show us characters with huge ambition. Callum hopes to become a professional wrestler, Ayesha wants to be a social media influencer and Luan dreams of playing in the NBA. The play only follows these characters until they’re on the verge of adulthood, so we don’t know exactly how their dreams fare. However, Luan’s journey to professional basketball starts very strongly, competing for his native Kosovo at an international level. Each character faces their own varying set of challenges, but the play portrays Gen Z as fiercely ambitious and makes it clear that the sky’s the limit.

GEN Z RATING: 2/5

Comments: Although the play did display hardships that its characters went through, it felt optimistic in its portrayal of Gen Z’s ambitions. There are many things we have easier than previous generations, but it doesn’t mean our outlook is wishfully positive. One in 10 people aged 18 to 34 believe they will never be in a position to afford their own home. In fact, Gen Z are beginning to make it clear that they have very little working ambition at all. Whilst ambition is traditionally a characteristic of youth, the play suggests that it’s an innate trait specific to Gen Z. However, most young people I know are less driven by the desire to have a big career; many are happy enough to know that their future is secure amidst the current political and economic uncertainty in our world.

Grow up

3 Grow up!

Summary: At the heart of the play is a focus on the difficulties of transitioning into adulthood. Emily regularly clashes with her mum while Luan’s arguments with his parents at the dinner table provide some of the play’s most memorable scenes. The tension between the teenage characters and their parents and teachers speaks to today’s growing generation gap, highlighting the societal pressures that parents aren’t aware that their kids are going through. 

GEN Z RATING: 5/5

Comments: The gap between young and old has never felt larger than during the current political climate. A 2019 poll showed that 50% of people aged 75 or over think the younger generation ‘don’t have it bad, they just complain more’. The UN also recommended that the UK government take ‘urgent measures’ to address a climate of ‘intolerance and negative public attitudes towards children, especially adolescents.’ Last month the Good Morning Britain presenters were seen to gang up on a young climate change activist during a debate over oil licences in the North Sea. Many older Twitter users echoed host Richard Madeley’s claim that the young activist was ‘childish’ in her advocation of sustainable practices. While the future interests of our world continue to be threatened by those in power, don’t expect Gen Z to keep quiet. 

OVERALL GEN Z RATING: 11/15

Although that score seems harsh, the play itself was very enjoyable, moving and well-acted. However, whilst the play does a reasonable job of portraying Gen Z’s tech obsessions and growing pains, its lack of consideration for their increasingly bleak prospects means it falls short in communicating the fear and uncertainty felt by today’s youth. Our global research at TPL means we see better than any this growing sense of despondency, and it can’t be understated the impact that the pandemic has had on what was already a challenging climate for young people. Let’s hope that Gen Z’s future scores higher than the rating here, and that people understand the importance of giving attention and consideration to the future builders of our world.