An Open Letter to Generation Z

Social media has validated rapid and superficial reactions. Let’s resist.

What was life like before social media? More importantly, how did we respond to major issues before social media? I wouldn’t know, but it probably included a careful amount of thought and consideration. As I said, I wouldn’t know because I am just starting high school this fall. Social media has changed the way that my generation sees and reacts to the world. As expected, it isn’t all good.

The entire concept of social media is centered on instant and singular reactions. This forces people to choose a side and ignore potential doubts. There’s little middle ground. It robs young adults of a fair chance to explore and grow ideologically. The seemingly infinite political movements on social media also lack depth. It’s easy to judge a book by its cover when you only see the cover. I often find myself frivolously debating with friends through text on issues such as whether Kamala Harris will be able to attract black voters when all I saw was an Instagram post with a flashy caption.

Our social lives have become so tied to these platforms that we often co-opt “popular” crises for our own benefit. A few weeks ago, a massive explosion occurred in Beirut, killing at least 160. My classmates quickly took to social media and reposted ways to help Lebanon, but no one had previously said anything about the social unrest against government corruption, growing sectarianism, a crumbling economy, and the carelessness of the ruling elite plaguing the country. A week after the explosion, the Prime Minister of Lebanon and his cabinet resigned due to public outrage, but none of my classmates said anything. The topic had lost its trendiness. So why do people only rush to show support when it’s in their Twitter feed?

Social media isn’t inherently bad. In some instances, it’s helped many positive social movements gain momentum and produce results. It incites extreme emotions, so people listen and react. However, this cultivates a culture of knee-jerk and self-serving reactions lacking actual empathy and depth. Youth today like myself have grown up immersed in this environment. What happens when Generation Z takes the helm in Washington, Tokyo, and London?

What now? Will this effect continue until the world has radicalized to a point of no return? It might unless we do something. I don’t mean to suggest that young people boycott social media; that’s certainly impossible. Instead, we have to use it with awareness. Assume everything has a hidden bias that’s intended to invoke reactions. If you see something and feel passionate about it, explore it in depth. Gather all the facts to help understand the cause. Be comfortable with ambiguity. If you only feel strongly about it because everyone else does, resist this trap. How we deal with this will define our generation and who we become. Heck, the world depends on it.

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1 thought on “An Open Letter to Generation Z”

  1. I am a baby boomer, a child of the turbulent ’60s, long before PCs and social media. We heard about major issues from TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Our response was public protest, often violent.

    After the Tet Offensive in January 1968 proved that the media had been publishing government lies, we did not trust the media. It was openly known that media companies reported things with political bias. One should get reports from multiple sources to get the best picture. We knew that there are frequent inaccuracies in reporting and no report can ever be the 100% complete truth. We questioned and thought about everything. The important thing is that we thought and had discussions to try to determine the truth. We usually disagreed, but we had respectful and intelligent discussions. Not much was accepted at face value. Sadly, those times are long gone.

    The internet provides instant and wide dispersal of everything from mostly truth to complete lies and junk. Intelligent and respectful discussions seldom exist. People simply believe whatever easy thing pleases them and decide everything else is wrong. They fight against the challenges of questioning and thinking. They would rather fight than think. We live in an increasingly dangerous world because too many people have become brainless as computers and the internet have replaced the need to think.

    Mr. Chu, you are right to worry about what will happen when the young people take the helms of governments. I applaud your last paragraph, “If you only feel strongly about it because everyone else does, resist this trap. How we deal with this will define our generation and who we become. Heck, the world depends on it.” Thank you for saying it so perfectly.

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