Defining Generation Z

You’ve heard this song on the radio. Maybe not so much anymore now because it’s so last year, but it will pop up every once in a while when a station is doing a flashback to 2011. Every time I hear it, I have to smile.  Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Nayer singing, “Tonight, give me everything tonight. For all we know, we might not get tomorrow.” For me, it begs the question: why not? Where’s tomorrow gonna go? Do they know about some impending asteroid-Earth collision or global pandemic that may potentially sweep the globe in the next 24 hours? Why can’t they promise tomorrow? Do they need to watch Gone With the Wind again?

And later on Pitbull adds, “I can’t promise tomorrow, but I promise tonight.” Well that’s big of him, isn’t it? Talk about a guy willing to commit to a long-term relationship. What would his wedding proposal sound like? “Girl, you mean so much to me. I swear I’ll love you for our wedding day. For our wedding night. But I can’t promise you I’ll still love you for our honeymoon.”

But, these lines don’t make me smile because they’re easy to make fun of. For me, they stand for something much more. They symbolize a generation – Generation Z.

Generation Z is comprised of the kids born from the mid-1990s to the present, and they have an obsession. I don’t know who to blame for it. And maybe blame isn’t even the right word. But I can’t think of a better one. Praise? Thank? Crucify? Well, maybe that’s a little too harsh. For now, let’s stick with blame.

Anyway, it’s not just one person who is to blame; it’s our society. But, that’s so vague: “society is to blame!” Who in society? The kids? The teenagers? Parents? Celebrities? Adults in general? Technology? ISPs? Movies? The media? Human nature?

You see the difficulty I have wrapping my mind around this. But it is there, an idea that has crept into our society over the last few years. It’s everywhere now, this idea – this fierce urgency of now. It consumes us, this focus on the present. This need to have everything, to know everything now. Right now.

We see it all over the place, this fascination. Take Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling in Love,” which loudly exclaims that there is “no tomorrow, there’s just right now now now, now now now now.” It’s a mantra, a battle cry for this generation.

And it’s not just limited to music either. Consider AT&T’s new television commercials, which show two people focused on their smartphones, checking others’ postings, updating their statuses, and uploading videos in seconds; these people are utilizing AT&T’s super quick download speeds and are thus living life at the speed of light. Normal-speed people approach them and ask them if they have heard the latest, choicest gossip, with the duo condescendingly responding that this gossip the normal-speed people are so eager to impart  “was so 27 seconds ago.”

I don’t know who these people are, but they are my idols. Apparently, they have such amazing lives that something new and exciting is happening to them every second. Good thing they have superfast download speeds to keep up with the excitement and dynamism that fills up their existence. They just possibly couldn’t live without their 4G network.

But, do you see my concern with this? Do you see this fixation on “the now” and how obsessed we are with it? I know AT&T is using hyperbole to enhance their product, but there is some truth to what they are depicting – people are obsessed with finding things out first. And this obsession is actually becoming an addiction.

I was reading about a study that was done recently in Germany that found that social media may be more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. People were showing more of an impulse to fulfill their social needs on-line than to fulfill their drug habit; their minds were craving Facebook more than the nicotine in a cigarette.

But, kids aren’t going to start attending Facebook Anonymous meetings, because that’s just fighting the symptom, not the cause. It’s not the social media that is the addiction; the kids are addicted to “now.” Everyone’s thinking it, wanting to post about it. What am I doing now? Right now. Because the world has to know what I’m doing, and I have to know what the world is doing.

Yet as I take a look at this generation and shake my head at its now obsession, I can’t help but feel a little hypocritical. Aren’t I being unfair by condemning this now fascination in Generation Z when it certainly didn’t begin with them? The short answer is…yes.

The New Testament contains the concept of “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” which was echoed by Boccaccio in The Decameron (written in the 14th century), where he relates the experiences of characters faced with the mysterious horrors of the Bubonic Plague. The disease was so insidious that people had to enjoy the present because they had no idea if they would be alive the next day. Thoreau, writing in 1854, cries out for man to “suck out all the marrow of life,” an idea which serves as the basis for the movie Dead Poet’s Society which was released in 1989.

To say that this obsession with the now is a new concept that Generation Z created would be unfair. In some ways, you can look at Generation Z and simply say that they are continuing a tradition of seizing the day (and for them, seizing the second) that has been inherent in our society for years.

We can’t look at this generation through our mature glasses and denounce their naïve impulses, lack of responsibility, and emotional drama. For they have learned from us; we are their models.

We can’t be dismayed at their failures or hold them responsible for actions done and not done. After all, they haven’t promised anything; they’ve only promised tonight. And we have made those same promises.