My kids are part of Generation Z, but they had zero interest in talking to me about it (rolling their eyes when I used the vocabulary we cite on Page 114). So I enlisted one of my favorite young people, Haley, whose mom is a dear friend. Haley’s independent spirit and wisdom has been obvious since the moment I met the Laguna Beach native when she was 4. She’s now 20 and away at college. She generously agreed to chat about her peers and the world events that have shaped them.
How would you describe Gen Z?
I feel like we are a lot more tied to tech than most others, since we’ve grown up with it. Our socializing works differently because it’s so based off social media. I think it makes it harder to connect with people. I feel like there’s kind of a social dance when you’re meeting people for the first time in person. I don’t really understand it. My own thing is I try to intentionally put my phone away when I’m hanging out with people I want to spend time with. But that’s not necessarily matched.
How did COVID-19 impact your interactions?
Throughout the entire pandemic, I think I only talked to five people consistently. I was spending all of my time in one room with maybe two people. I completely forgot how to have a conversation unless it was with them! It’s strange thinking about going back to in-person classes. The common experiences you would normally talk about, it feels like a lot of that has gone away.
Is there a defining characteristic for this group?
I feel like more than anything, we’re very self-conscious. I think we’re more nervous to participate or speak our mind or put ourselves out there. I noticed it while we were on Zoom classes—there was a lot of dead silence when someone was asked to participate. I think we’re nervous to go out of our own circle.
Do you agree with traits ascribed to Gen Z?
I think we’re very creative and entrepreneurial. (We’re also) very active politically and focused on environmental action. (Seeing) the environmental downfall, I think it’s pushed us to fight faster for change.
What famous person epitomizes the age group to you?
Greta Thunberg made a huge impression and a huge difference. I’ve seen a lot of people on TikTok or YouTube I agree with. There’s a Twitch streamer named Hasan Piker: He does 10 hours of streaming about political news. It’s a great education about politics in an engaging way that gets a lot more viewers from our generation.
Amen to that! The passion and promise of more O.C. young people is evident in our Gen Z story (Page 102).