Generation Z: Zoomers like climate change hero Greta Thunberg to change the world
Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. John Paul College head girl Orla Walsh and head boy Adam Wong-Toi say their generation could change the world for the better. Photo / Ben Fraser Kids of today spending too much time in front of a screen is a topic often discussed, and often in a negative context. Generation Z hasn't known a life without a strong digital influence, but is that a bad thing or could it create a generation of people who will change the world for the better? Kristin Macfarlane reports. Generation Z, Gen Z-ers, Zoomers - they have never known a life without Google. Born between 1997 and 2012, they are growing up with information at their fingertips, with more access to everything happening in the world than the generations before them. If a racially motivated attack happens in another country, they hear about it. If people's experiences and witness accounts of social injustices are shared, they see it. If examples of starving polar bears, extreme weather conditions, or coral bleaching linked to climate change make their way on to the internet, they speak out in droves. They are generally the most open-minded of the generations and Zoomers are excited at the prospect of a future with them leading the world. But how did today's generation of youth come to be such confident social activists? According to Rotorua 17-year-old Orla Walsh, there has been a generational shift in people wanting to do more to improve the world they live in now, and for the future. "I feel like people in our generation feel they have an obligation to right wrongs that they see in society and have this desire to do more and really be a part of change in society," Walsh says. "I think it is a generational movement." The John Paul College head girl says her generation is already making a positive impact on the world and the name Greta Thunberg is synonymous with that. The Swedish environmental activist sparked an international movement to fight climate change after delivering an emotional speech at last year's UN climate action summit in New York, accusing world leaders of ignoring the science behind the climate crisis. I feel like people in our generation ... have this desire to do more and really be a part of change in society, She was 15 at the time and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike last September - including about 170,000 in New Zealand. "We have such strong role models," Orla says of Greta. "I think she's been quite inspirational to make people feel like they have choices and a voice." In the past year, climate change and Black Lives Matter were are among the biggest issues that have dominated headlines around the world and both have been backed by Gen Z-ers. "When you see injustice it makes you want to act." Orla says her generation seems more open-minded than previous generations and is noticing a shift towards unity including racial, cultural and religious equality because Zoomers want to do more for the world and society. Technology, and living in the digital age has meant people "see injustice a lot more", and seeing it gives people an emotional connection and response. As digital natives, fellow Gen Z-er Adam Wong-Toi says his generation is more familiar with social injustices and understands the importance of looking after the environment a lot younger than previous generations. The 17-year-old John Paul College head boy says veganism as a way of reducing people's carbon footprint is common among his age group, as is recycling and people standing up against social inequalities through marches, protests, post-sharing. In the past, these may have been issues considered by other generations at older times of their lives. Adam says growing up exposed to more information younger, also means his generation is able to work towards making positive changes earlier. Some of those improvements include efforts towards stopping climate change, caused by generations before them, and helping generations that may have been less informed to accept equality. "We are going to be living on this Earth and we don't want it to be destroyed by our own people. "We want a world where all people feel like they're an equal part of it." If Zoomers continue the way they are he has no doubt his generation will change the world for the better in the future. As a millennial with a Gen Z-er daughter, I've noticed major differences in our views of the world at the same ages. At the age of 9 my daughter decided to become a vegetarian, associating it with animal cruelty and a way she could reduce her environmental impact. More than two years later I can't imagine her going back to being a meat-eater. I don't think either of these issues were even on my radar at that age. The biggest change I made for myself was probably deciding to cut my hair into a bob. Before plastic bags were banned she made a point to always carry a reusable shopping bag in her school bag just in case I forgot my own, and while grocery shopping I've been encouraged many a time to choose certain products over others becasue of the amount of packaging used. She has definitely created change for the better in our household at least. But does growing up in a digital age actually create a generation of people who will change the world for the better? If you look back on the generations you'll notice transitions across the ages. The silent generation, those born between 1928 and 1945, are known to be hard workers. They lived through the Great Depression and World War II and it was also during that timeframe in New Zealand saw a decline of Maori children being fluent in te reo. The years of the Boomers, born between 1946-1964, also saw the boom of the television prompting a big change of people's lifestyles. The Baby Boomers, a name given to them because of the spike of births after WWII, was a generation of cash-buyers who went without if they didn't have the means. During the years of Generation X, those born between 1965-1980, the push towards convenience was evident. The disposable plastic shopping bag was invented, plastic straws started to be mass-produced and McDonald's opened in New Zealand. Before Zoomers it was the Millennials, born 1981-1996, who led older generations in embracing technology but today, they are probably better known as the demographic that likes to spend their money on smashed avocado toast instead of buying homes. University of Waikato lecturer Dr Aleea Devitt, an ageing/human behaviour/human development and psychology expert, said today's youth were generally more open-minded than previous generations. However, she said that was through no fault of older generations, who were conditioned with information they had on hand at the time - nothing like it is today. Devitt's expertise lies in the behaviours of the older generations and says receiving new information that counters anything you'd already learned could be "extremely difficult". "You almost have to re-learn and change your behaviour." Beliefs have often been conditioned into a person so it can be hard for older generations to accept that what some of the things they have been taught have been wrong. "I think one kind of big issue is more like misinformation in terms of the older population." Because the younger generation are growing up in an ever-changing digital world, they will be more technologically literate and are likely to identify websites with trusted information easier than the rest of us, she says. But it's not all positives for the digital natives, who constantly know what their friends are doing, see a world of perfectly groomed boys and girls looking as though they are always on the go and don't know how spend their time without technology if they're bored. Nancy Broomer, a Rotorua doctor, has four kids aged between 18 and 25. Over the years as a GP working in youth health she has seen the impacts the advancement of technology has had on young people. When she was growing up she didn't have colour television or the internet and when people wanted to communicate they wrote a letter or called on the landline telephone. She remembers only being allowed to talk to her school friends on the phone once a week. Today, things are a lot different for youth. She acknowledges growing up in a world where people are better informed and aware of what's happening in the world are positives for digital natives, but the downside is knowing what people are doing and where they are at any time of the day, and also comparing their own lives with others' on social media. "I think it brings out the best and worst. "It's been good in making people more aware of what's happening; it's bad because it makes people feel like they're missing out." This can have negative impacts on a person's self-esteem, moods, make them feel anxious, become sleep deprived and feel inadequate - which she has seen as a doctor. Despite all of this, Broomer has high hopes for Zoomers - a generation more open-minded than those previous and "willing to get off their bottoms" to make things happen. Samuel Taylor is an 18-year-old Zoomer who is inspired by many actions of his peers. He cites last year's climate change strikes where about 170,000 people - most of them Kiwi students - as one of the biggest "coming togethers of a generation". The Mount Maunganui teenager should be in the United States right now getting ready to begin his life as a Harvard University student, but Covid-19 has delayed that at least a year. But he's been keeping a close on friends in America and seeing them stand up for issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement has been inspiring, he says. He describes his generation as open-minded, built from well-informed, entrepreneurial minds that speak out about issues they feel connected to - Climate change and social injustices among them. "We're more informed than any generation previous." Because of this he hopes his generation is the one that will change the world for the better - and it's not until Zoomers are the main voting base that he believes structural change will happen. But it's not all positives for the digital natives, who constantly know what their friends are doing, see a world of perfectly groomed boys and girls looking as though they are always on the go and don't know how spend their time without technology if they're bored. Rotorua's Charlotte Sutton is 23 and believes her fellow Gen Z-ers want to live in a world better than it is today, and will put action behind their desires. She has been conscious of her own carbon footprint since she was a teenager, recycling, cutting out plastic, composting and reducing fast fashion purchases as a few of her every day habits. "I try to be mindful of it." It's important to Zoomers to push to try and fix climate change. "You can't deny [climate change] anymore. People would get behind it because you couldn't really dispute it." Other generations do their part, but she says hers seem to be more aware and accepting of it earlier in life because they have been made aware of the impacts as part of normal life. Others may find information harder to digest when it is provided later in life. In an age of information, Mount Maunganui Zoomer Cydney Ebeling believes "ignorance is really like a choice". She's a proactive 23-year-old who puts her money where her mouth is as part of her efforts to "dismantle white supremacy", donating to organisations and groups that are working to right injustices. Among them is the Black Lives Matter Foundation that aims to eradicate white supremacy and support Black communities, as well as the Grassroots Law Project, which works to transform justice in America, draws attention to cases of criminal injustice, provides legal support and advocates for deep structural change. When her generation become the leaders of the world, she hopes change will happen and make a positive difference. "I'm hopeful that our generation will be more progressive leaders. "I definitely feel I try to be positive about what will happen." Members of Generation Z are excited at the prospect of a future with them leading the world. But the results of what they achieve are still some years away. Reminder, this is a Premium article and requires a subscription to read. Organiser says he will be running a tight ship, with no tolerance for hecklers.