'Kids These Days': The Politics of the iGeneration
The term iGeneration was coined to describe the post-millennial generation, formally known as Generation Z, to describe their Apple gadgets like iPhones and their highly individualistic nature. Jean M. Twenge is a psychologist who has studied the iGeneration for years, their research shows that the generation is vastly different than the millennials when comparing norms, activities, and worldview. They are unique to their predecessors because it is unfathomable for them to picture life in a world without the internet and smartphones, as a result these innovations have become a consuming part of everyday life. Their fluency with modern technology has additionally aided the iGeneration to already begin participating in politics and social movements as young adults, such as the March For Our Lives movement. It is impossible to say for certain how this generation will impact future politics and elections, but what is evident is that many are actively engaging in politics early in their lives.
The iGeneration includes people born in the mid 1990s to the late 2000s, meaning the elders of this cohort are in their early twenties, and the youngest individuals are in elementary school. Unlike the millennial generation who remember the days of the VCR, the iGeneration were exposed to the internet since they were babies and grew up in a social media obsessed culture. The iGeneration communicate primarily through the use of technology rather than physically hanging out with people, meaning they spend a lot of their time alone in their rooms at home Snapchatting their friends. They have never had to ask anyone for an answer to a question, directions, or a recipe – who needs interpersonal interaction when you have Google? The iGeneration has not relied as heavily on others in the way previous generations have, as they realized that they only need themselves and the internet to survive – this isolation possibly desensitized them to the hardships they do not personally experience. Another isolating element these individuals experience is the echo-chamber effect of social media, this is when an online platform filters content an individual already agrees with to be displayed instead of dissenting opinions. If people remain in their bubble where everyone agrees, there is no effective discourse or listening to another perspective – which is especially troubling for young people engaged in politics. The iGeneration is also increasingly entrepreneurial than previous generations, a 2015 survey shows that one in four young people are interested in starting their own business. Neil Howe, an American historian and economist, discussed how the iGeneration has more awareness of the world and their personal circumstances, namely the reality of finances and adulthood. This awareness could be directly attributed to their fluency with using modern technology for daily needs, as well as their reliance on social media to connect them to people and news from around the globe.
The power of social media was displayed when the iGeneration showed up in masses at the March For Our Lives movement on March 24th, 2018, where hundreds of thousands of people came out to protest the lack of gun control in America. Meghan Bonner is a junior at high school who lost her friend in the school shooting last February. She was one of the young organizing activists of the march who’s message was clear, “The adults failed us, and now 17 people are dead”. The perspective of the iGeneration was clearly shown at this march. Teenagers were done with leaving a critical problem to be resolved by adults and went out to fix it themselves; this showcases the do-it-yourself aspect of the generation. The march was accomplished by a group of young people reaching out across social media, their collective organization illustrated their drive as well as political influence. Although increased gun control has popular support, a recent report published by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that the 55% of young people describe protests using negative terms like pointless, counterproductive, divisive, and violent. Only about one-third of the participants ascribed more positive value to them, using words like inspiring, powerful, and effective. However, responses were highly stratified by race, gender, political affiliation, and ethnicity in the report. This variation is shown by the nearly two thirds of white respondents used negative terms to describe protests, whereas half of the black respondents chose positive terms. Generally speaking, the iGeneration is obsessed with their online existence, which has made them more self-interested individuals who consume information and interaction through a screen. However, the March For Our Lives movement showcased the entrepreneurial aspect of the generation, their diversity of opinion, and their amount of political influence in the coming years.
The massive numbers at the March for Our Lives launch show just how much political power the iGeneration will hold in upcoming elections once more reach the voting age. They grew up with effects of the 2008 economic collapse and, the looming threat of global and domestic terrorism affecting the world. After watching how their family and friends were impacted by these events, safety and security became important to the iGeneration. This idea is supported by the fact that between 2012 and 2016 the democratic candidates lost 5% of the youth vote nationally, which could be argued to have occurred because of first time young voters. Interestingly enough, the PRRI report found that issues which are popularly supported by the millennial generation such as gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, were in the bottom three of the critical issues of the iGeneration participants. In contrast, the three most critical political issues were jobs and unemployment, terrorism, and the cost of higher education. It is clear that the iGeneration values economic, national, and personal security, which are traditionally conservative leaning issues – the term conservative, in this context, refers to classical conservative ideology, namely the emphasis on the individual, limited government, and security. Overall, the moderate political inclination of the iGeneration can be attributed to their childhood taking place during a culture of fear-baiting media, their highly individualistic nature, as well as their entrepreneurial spirit.
Despite the fact that research shows a conservative leaning among the iGeneration, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will vote for a right-wing candidate in an election. Social issues like discrimination are important to young people, just not as important as their personal security. The PRRI report found that one in four of the participants reported having been targeted or treated unfairly in the past year. In addition, there is a widespread agreement among the respondents in the report that discrimination against Muslim and transgender people is on the rise. The iGeneration grew up in a time where it was normal for both parents to work, their neighbours to be an immigrant family, or for their friend to be gay. Social equality is an important issue for the iGeneration, but it is less so compared to the very liberal millennial cohort. The argument can be made that the upcoming generation of young voters will be the most conscientious group who research specific candidates’ positions on issues that are important to them, instead of belonging to one political party and voting accordingly.
The iGeneration had the luxury of a childhood without bomb drills done in schools or conscription like the Baby Boomer generation beforehand. However, they have grown up with the looming fear of possible terrorist attacks, school shootings, and economic collapse. In addition, they played games like Candy Crush on iPads instead of toys like Connect Four because, the seismic technological shift impacted their childhood and education directly. The combination of ingrained fear and a deep connection with technology, has created a generation of upcoming voters who are untrusting of the democratic process and increasingly conservative. The mechanical way of life and social media dominated culture, which the iGeneration has grown up with, has produced self-sufficient and self-obsessed individuals who have never had to rely on others for help. They aren’t going to wait for slow moving bureaucratic government process to pass legislation, this generation recognizes that they can be their own change in the world.
Sara Bourdeau is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa, who will obtain an Honours Bachelor of Social Science with a specialization in political science in the spring of 2018. She is moving to Toronto to begin a public policy internship at an advocacy organization.