Our generation, Generation Z, is the first to grow up fully immersed in the Information Age. We’re tech-savvy and equipped with a 6th sense to manipulate any phone, app, computer or website with uncomplicated ease. This ability and apparent obsession with using technology has made us appear self-absorbed, shallow and narcissistic — except we aren’t. We’re just self-conscious.
What the generations before, and even the majority of us, don’t realise is how much media has been integrated into every teenager’s life. Generally, the children of each generation have grown up imitating the society around them and the media bound to it, from literature to film to music. For Gen Z, the volume of media has never been greater. The growth of the internet and companies like Netflix, Youtube, and Instagram have not only allowed more content to be created but, more importantly, they’ve increased our access to it. During our parents’ teenage years, watching a movie required either a trip to the cinema or a movie rental shop. In 2019, the typical feature film is only three mere taps away.
Films and shows like ’13 Reasons Why’, ‘Riverdale,’ ‘To All the Boys I Loved Before’, ‘Lady Bird’, and ‘Paper Towns’ all attempt to portray teenage life, which with no doubt can lead to ridiculously high expectations of adolescence for those growing up. However, our problem extends beyond that of unhealthy goals for romance and partying: it’s our growing exposure to the ubiquity of narrative frameworks.
Gen Z has grown up surrounded by literally thousands of movies, shows, and stories about that first relationship, first breakup, perfect summer with friends, high school parties, and all these ‘milestones’ for growing up. Before we even enter teenagehood, we’re shown these checkboxes of what we ‘need’ to do to seem and feel normal, rather than experiencing it firsthand ourselves. We also have predetermined ideas of how each ‘milestone’ should play out. What people need to realize, however, is that the comparisons we make aren’t necessarily to optimistic fairytales, but rather, as modern media refines its realism, to ‘authentic’ tragedies.
We’re increasingly under the impression that our lives are part of a grander, dramatic narrative structure, where everything we do can be scrutinised and analysed for a deeper ‘meaning’ than there really is. In a story, there typically exists a clearcut form of causality; x event happens, thus character y undergoes change z. The sheer volume of media we’re exposed to nowadays means we attempt to translate this system of causality into our own lives. And thus, there’s a growing tendency for us to subconsciously observe ourselves from the third person; mentally or emotionally removed from certain moments. We focus more on preparing for each moment, then meta-analysing what we gained from it and how it changed us afterwards — all at the expense of honestly experiencing the moment itself.
In certain ways, we have come to live our lives as though we’re in a movie, of which we are the star, producer, director, editor, cinematographer, and publisher. Our images are purposely curated to fit the role we’ve been forced to write for ourselves, pressured by a culture that we had no part in creating. Then, when we compare the movie of our own lives to the representative media, our narrative arcs seem less impressive, less dramatic, and less meaningful, almost always appearing that much bit duller — and it’s stressfully disappointing. For some, this leads to a fetishisation of sadness as well as self-indulgence in negative emotions.
Our culture of media consumption won’t be going away any time soon. Some observers argue that our use of media will follow a cycle, and a future generation will possibly be ‘unplugged.’ Nonetheless, like how the car replaced the horse, these modern instruments of social engineering will inevitably and unquestionably replace a particular element of the human experience that we may never reclaim.
Written by Zi Lin Wang
Feature Imaged via @visuals_cn on Unsplash