By Alhan Fakhr
For our parents, the threats Pakistan faced in their youth were predictable and clear as day. The military was all-powerful — public floggings were the norm, Islami Jamiat terrorised college campuses, and Altaf Bhai was the king of Karachi. Zia’s reign of terror instilled fear in people, silencing an entire generation, and was the greatest single threat to prosperity and freedom in the country.
Three decades on, fear continues to be omnipresent in the lives of 20-somethings. Except, today, the actors perpetuating fear are veiled. They are capable of abducting elected legislators and forcing academics to disappear in broad daylight. Our parents clearly knew what they were up against. We, the Generation Z of Pakistan, comprehend the magnitude, the nature, and scope of the threats we face.
The fearsome unknown, for me, is the greatest distinction between us and prior generations. Unfortunately, consistent despair stretches beyond the political and permeates every aspect of our lives — social, economic, personal and public; each plagued by abiding anxiety. Every waking moment of our day is documented, personal lives are public, and all the information we need is a quick Google search away. Yet, many of us appear not to realise the consequences of the updates we post or know how to process the abundance of news we receive. We are a generation of paradoxes steeped in fear.
Unlike any generation before us, tales of our misspent adolescence and youth are accessible on Facebook and Instagram. Our evolution, totally trackable, is limited by the facades we project on our social media.
Our online presence is highly curated: photos are filtered, geo-tags carefully inserted, and causes blindly supported. Our virtual existence is almost entirely a product of our anxieties, shaped by overexposure to the lives of those we follow online and offline. Even though we seek privacy, our social media engagement is our second-nature. A quick glance at Instagram stories on a Friday night is a reiteration of what we lack and aspire to gain. The fear of missing out deeply impacts our self-worth, reducing us to the opportunities missed and our undesirable lives in that fleeting moment.
Misleading Instagram accounts often directly conflict with our personas on Twitter; the second-home of Gen-Z social justice warriors. We complain about the incestuous nature of elite Pakistani circles while directly benefitting from the privilege they extend. Conversations acceptable in close-door social settings suddenly become impermissible. There is no room to falter, to evolve, to change positions. Actions belie professed beliefs, as long as the beliefs in question are socially and politically salient. 160 characters, a like here, retweet there, are enough to determine one’s personal politics and strength of character. 25-year-olds are expected to defend their tweets from when they were 18; 18 year-olds are expected to display the maturity of the ideologues they worship.
Despite being supporters of free thought, we stifle critical thinking in its tracks by trolling down an opinion or thought that differs or questions our own. Trolling online in many instances stems from fear due to a lack of knowledge or social pressures resulting from steering a course against the tide. Through our social media feeds, we create self-righteous echo chambers which then compete against each other to establish utmost moral superiority.
Even though we brew in fear, we are also a generation which believes that we can have it all. We can juggle careers, travel the world, fight for flexible working hours and flatter management structures, and have equal pay for equal work. Even though we may conform, we don’t seek to live cookie cutter lives in suburban homes, with 9 to 5 jobs, and constricted gender-roles. We have greater sexual freedoms across gender and socio-economic lines and aren’t afraid to seek reproductive healthcare when needed. Fewer people in our generation argue against education, healthcare, and a clean environment being state-guaranteed human rights.
“Some of these observations are not Pakistan-specific, nor are they accurately representative of Pakistani youth as millions lack access to education, the Internet and smartphones. However, they speak to the microcosm I belong to and grew up in, which is urban, privileged, and English-speaking.”
Social media, much like our visible leadership and the invisible hand operating it, is driven by a scarce set of rules. Our generation cannot imagine a world without our smartphones, and Uncle Sam watching each move we make on them. These realities are ingrained in our DNA. As an age-group, it is delusional to assume that technology liberates us from our personal and political shackles. Rather, it does exactly the opposite.
“Glimmers of hope have been consumed by establishment structures which exacerbate our sense of inadequacy in the personal, and make us physically impotent in the political. Our enemy is stronger than ever and we don’t know how to fight it.
Sons of the screen
By Fatima Bakhtawar
“This is a snowflake generation. Fragile and thin-skinned, this generation knows nothing of the hardships of the past.”
The elders have spoken. These words of inviolable wisdom are passed from every father to son before the father tapers off into a long-winded tale of walking barefoot with a bag full of stones to a school across a barren dessert. These among other stories of rising from humble beginnings, surviving near-fatal destitution, and, perhaps, saving whole villages are read out loud, from the parents’ silver-spoon handbook, to every successive generation and Gen Z is no exception. These serve to remind angsty, mid-pubescent youngsters that they are like dandelion flowers that could disintegrate at the slightest breeze of hardship, flailing away on their degenerate, weak-willed course (wherever that meme marred, bitcoin built course may lead). One often overhears millennial mothers gossiping how hypersensitive, anxiety-prone, social media-addicted Gen Z is too comfortable pushing the boundaries, …pushing too far. That the half-ungrateful, half-oblivious youth has wandered into the technocratic universe without the values and morals of the past. Is it true? Are the hyper-multitasking entrepreneurs, who can search, sort, extract data from diverse situations and support it with cleverly-crafted relatable memes within nanoseconds, really incapable of carrying the baton passed to them by the millennials?
In Egyptian mythology, Osiris, a king of Egypt, is overthrown due to his complacency with the law. It is the destiny of his son, Horus, to restore his father’s rule with him. This father-son union suggests that social order challenged by demands of new time can be reformed and be the basis of a new structure to keep a society from disintegrating. As Gen Z steps into a social order constructed by the millennials and tries to find its place in it, the most important question is what is it inheriting? During the early 2000s, global recession, war on terror, and political repression under President Musharraf defined the world for Pakistan’s millennials as they came of age.
This saw an increased anti-authoritarianism, a consequence of the faltering trust in the dictatorial regime. This generation, riding the cusp of the millennia, adopted a ‘progressive’ attitude, claiming the right to individualism and equality. Media and music saw a resurgence of punk subculture, third wave feminism called for gender equality, and a technological revolution led to rapid globalisation.
Abortion, gay rights, civil rights, diversity were their issues for riot and rebellion. Minorities demanded assimilation. These men and women were born and brought up in a capitalistic and democratic state and were now demanding their place in it, unlike their ancestors in imperialistic regimes. As state was established as the unequivocal sovereign authority regulating everything from legal to communal affairs, much of the past dependence on religion and culture for ethics and values diluted.
Gen Z enters the narrative when all the work (although far from ideal) has been done for them, with their MacBook Pro teleporting them to conferences and the mindfulness podcasts blessing them with spiritual awakening. Taught and trained to be modern empiricists with all the necessary data riding their fingertips, Gen Z has learned to think in a different way. Deconstructing every dogma and challenging every injustice, Gen Z claims right to freedom of expression and liberty like no other generation before it. Unprecedented diversity and expansive views of the role of government leads to exposure of diverse perspectives that challenge the claims of any particular worldview, religion, or ideology. While access to everything is easy to come by, binding acceptance of anything is not so much. The multiplicity of perspectives, each with supporting arguments, makes it hard to stick by one.
Relativism has bewitched the distracted, dissociated gaze of our young adults: for them truth is subjective and nothing is binary. The radical leftist of the previous generation blurred many boundaries and the sudden flood of information washed them away. Today, gender appears fluid and religion a choice. Unlike the previous generations that were constrained by religion, culture, traditions, or authority (all of which suffered the brunt of the millennial movements), this generation lives without a homogenous core value system. With every man for himself, and the sky as the limit, the youths of today live with immeasurable inner chaos, which in many ways is more painful than crossing that barren desert barefoot which their fathers talk of.
By Jazib Zazir
I still recall my earliest exposure to the concepts underpinning Generations X and Y. I was a bright-eyed middle school student and my elder sibling and cousins knowledgeably sprinkled the terminology into conversation and debated its implications. As I grew older, I pored over Newsweek which conflated these generations with the positivity of idealism and tempered it with a tendency towards fickleness. Somewhere in between, I embraced my career and fatherhood and lost track of the nuances of the alphabet soup of generations.
When I was asked to write about Generation Z, I admittedly had to start with an online search to make sure I understood the technical definition. I learned that this was the title for those born mid-nineties onwards, just about the time I got my first exposure to the terms Generation X and Y.
Turns out, I actually do have a lot of exposure to Generation Z. I’ve spent most of the last decade managing a software studio where I spend much of my time interviewing, training and generally interacting with this age cohort. A chunk of my time has been spent teaching at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and my students are largely drawn from the same pool.
So let me admit right off the bat that I have a genuine soft spot for Generation Z. I wouldn’t have picked and cherished these professions if I didn’t. Interacting with this cohort has helped define my own personal and professional aspirations and many of my propensities can be directly linked to what I’ve taught them or learned from them.
I’m aware of the stereotypes. They squander time and resources on cackling emojis and adorning their avatars with feline features. They can rarely focus on the tasks at hand and are always looking to jump several hoops ahead. They are wary of all forms of personal and material commitment and want to be Peter Pan in Neverland forever.
Perhaps there are crumbs of truth in all of this. But this alone cannot define Generation Z. There is obviously a range of backgrounds, capabilities and accomplishments involved. But I’ve engaged with some of the best of Generation Z and always come away feeling impressed and inspired. To me, Generation Z is epitomised by the A-levels students from Aitchison College who wrote me a formal letter requesting a summer internship, met with me over lunch to discuss their career goals and then spent the summer learning new programming tools and playing FIFA with my employees on our X-Box. That’s a far cry from my own experience with internships, where I would rely on my parents to suggest what was best for me and do little more in the office than wrestle with the photocopy machine or sip tea with the other interns.
I’ve met Generation Z-ers who are dreaming up world changing apps and business ideas while still in school. I’ve met Generation Z-ers who already have the cultural sensitivity that comes from having trotted over half the globe. I’ve met Generation Z-ers who understand the importance of developing their skills through ventures and volunteer activities outside of school. I’ve met ones who already appreciate the value of lifelong learning, of under-promising and over-delivering and taking their lives and careers in their own hands.
One of the reasons I’ve always loved sports is because I relish seeing how the generations evolve. I enjoy watching grainy videos of Don Bradman and Bjorn Borg for the romance of it. But I know that they are no match for Virat Kohli and Roger Federer in HD. Each generation of athletes is stronger, fitter and wiser and has benefited from the best in training, nutrition and legacy knowledge. Human evolution depends on this progression. To me, Generation Z represents the latest of this evolving breed. They are the most perfect form of humans, and what’s most exciting is that they tickle us into thinking about how they can get even better.
I’ll concede a bit of selfishness and narcissism in my affection for Generation Z. Seeing them at their peak and with the world as their stage brings back the fondest of memories for me from the singular excitement that comes at that stage of life. In them, I see a younger, rawer version of myself and think about how I have evolved from there, both for the better and for the worse. It gives me beaming optimism every time I chirp to them, ‘See, I didn’t know how to do that when I was your age.”
I’m looking at my squirming one-month old son right now and I ponder, what will his generation be called? I don’t know and I really don’t know what their distinguishing characteristics will be, but I do know that there’s a lot to look forward to.
Parenting a Gen Z-er
By Wajiha Hyder
I belong to a generation of people who saw the world change drastically as they entered their 20s. When I say drastic, I mean earth-shattering and mind-blowing. Ours is the generation whose children were born after the dawn of the new age. There is stuff that is bound to happen. Good stuff; but at times mind-boggling, nerve-wracking stuff that our parents probably never had to encounter.
Some would say, what can be better than having children who understand this newfangled world of technology like we never did, nor will? Children who can talk to their elders in a smooth, friendly manner without crossing the boundaries of respect, I’d say. These children somehow have an inborn ability to magically wiggle their way out of every obstacle they face. I would even say that they are a generation of solutions.
Let’s see what we have on our hands. These kids are native technology users. Tech is second nature to them. They’re living with the new norm of tiring school drills and tight security measures. They know how to build their connections digitally. They might possibly feel more compatible with someone their age in Germany than their own cousins right here in Lahore. They’re connecting to people around the world in a way we could only dream of when we were their age — and to be honest, still aren’t comfortable with.
They seem less affected by societal pressures, and more open and accepting of religious, cultural and ethnic differences. They are more exposed to the world, by virtue of which they’re much more accepting of non-traditional family structures than we ever were. They do not care about getting married by a certain age and are less excited about starting families as they’re genuinely distressed about the future of the planet.
While they’re much more (visibly) protected than their parents were as kids, these children are free in their minds like the earlier generations never were. Their childhood is not like ours was.
Of course, not everything is hunky dory with these kids. A downside of being overly protected is that these kids are mostly deprived of the fun we took for granted when we were kids. Playing unsupervised on the streets, climbing trees, taking a casual stroll on the road is like a long bygone fable to them. It is beyond them to even imagine a place now where children could ever have that much freedom.
While our kids are attaining mental maturity much earlier than we did, they are not as sensitive to their physical surroundings. They’d sit in an unclean room for hours, not being bothered about it. They are immersed in the digital world, they have lost respect for the physical one that surrounds them. A 16-year-old today might know more about the world than a 20-year-old did in our times, but, in terms of responsibility, they’re not quite different from the way we were at the age of 10.
As our children were the first ones to be born in a changing world, we were the first to become parents in the new age. No one before us had mini human robots to deal with. But in our effort to berate ourselves, we forget at times that we, the late Gen Xers and early millennials (sometimes known as Xennials) have a unique position in the society. We are perhaps the last remaining human link to the analogue world.
We vowed to raise our kids in a manner different from that of our parents. But since we are so incredibly confused between the parenting style of our parents and our own, we sometimes tend to turn the not-so-important things into a problem. We also tend to downplay the significance of the nice stuff in our lives, like having kids who are so far ahead of us in every manner. But maybe this attitude is an automatic by-product of adulthood.
I believe it is futile to use traditional measures to bring these children up. As parents, it is perhaps better for us to accept that both despite us and because of us, the generation we are raising right now is very different from any we’ve known. And maybe we are doing a good job given the ‘less than sufficient’ resources we have at our disposal.
I also believe that to grow, kids need to feel sadness and boredom at times. They need to hear “no,” at times, even when it’s easier for the parents to say “yes”. They need to taste failure as it is through failure that they grow; failure is sometimes the biggest gift.
My son, who’s also my youngest child, turned three this year. I am told he belongs to a new generation of children called Alpha — the first generation to be born ‘completely’ in the digital age. Stranger times beckon us. Perhaps it’s time for us to pat ourselves on the back and soldier on.
Plurals, iGen, Digital Natives…
By Haneya H. Zuberi
They prefer reading anything on a screen to reading on a paper. In fact, as a more environmentally conscious generation than the previous ones, they are more encouraging of conserving paper to save trees and eliminating the use of plastic. By and large, they are reckless and don’t like waiting. They live in a constant state of FOMO, the fear of missing out, and prefer sending and receiving text messages to making phone calls. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Pakistan’s Generation Z.
As a millennial instructor at a university in Lahore, I teach Generation Z students. Their concentration span is even shorter than my generation. To boost class concentration and to maximise productivity, I often give my students a two-minute break to look at their smartphones before resuming my lecture. By employing this tactic, I have noticed that they tend to pay more attention to the lecture and resist the otherwise constant desire to browse through the social media apps on their phones.
Demographers and researchers use the years 1995 and 2015 as birth years for Generation Z. Also, known as Plurals, iGen, Digital Natives, Gen Tech, this generation aged between 4 and 24, includes the median age of Pakistan according to the Pakistan Demographics Profile of 2018. Median age is the age that divides a population into two numerically equal groups — that is, half the people are younger than this age and half are older. It is a single index that summarises the age distribution of a population.
Pakistan’s Generation Zers don’t remember the times of Benazir Bhutto. They grew up in a post 9/11 world where Pakistan had a specific role on the world stage. They have seen the global refugee crisis, the Arab Spring and the rise of China as a competitor to the US in terms of global influence. For them, protesting is using the relevant trending hashtag on social media and activism is creating and signing petitions on Facebook and Twitter. Instead of watching news on television they prefer following news organisations on Instagram and follow their Insta stories to get their daily dose of information of what is happening in the country and around the world. One of my students tells me that she prefers watching 3-4-minute-long videos about topics that interest her rather than watching an entire documentary.
I often ask my first-year university students about what they want to be when they grow up and I find it fascinating that most of them want to be entrepreneurs and do their own thing. The fact is, that for most of these students, their learning has been defined by the limitlessness of the internet. Hence, most of them prefer not to be defined by or limited to traditional career paths. Since technology is so malleable, it tends to create an opportunity for customised experiences, consequently this generation has a very unique sense of self. They are very self-aware about what they like and what they dislike. They are also more open and susceptible to change as their learning has been defined by technology and they know everything requires an upgrade or a new version which will be better and provide a new and improved experience.
People from Generation Z also prefer communicating by using their devices than talking in person. In fact, they tend to have more friends online. Given the drastic innovation in the gaming space, the video game playing culture connects players online and gives them the opportunity to play at any hour during the day, while sitting in the comfort of their room. They prefer playing video games online than playing sports in a field.
The Generation Z cohort also has more friends on social media than they know people in person. Most of my students prefer following social media influencers than celebrities. A social media influencer is a person who has established their credibility online. These people have access to a large audience and they have the power to influence their followers by virtue of their authenticity and reach.
One thing I find troubling about this generation is the declining trend in reading books. Some of my students have told me that they have never read a book in their life. They use online summaries to get by in classes. Some say, that even though they wish to read, they just can’t finish a book because they easily lose interest. I often gear them towards reading short stories or essays for starters but given how the publishing industry is nosediving, this generation’s plummeting interest in reading books is worrisome.
All in all, it will be fascinating watching this generation grow up, enter the workforce and take charge of the world in their unique way.
Can we call them the smartphone generation? Are they quick to learn new skills and dare to look ahead of their times? Surely, they do. Born in years 1995 to 2015, we call them the Z-ers. They seem to have the capability to leave their mark on everything they do, dream, or just think about. Also called Plurals, iGen, and Digital Natives, the Z-ers can be many things to many people.
To a teacher, they have a very short attention span in a class, even shorter than their previous generation — the millennials. Understandably, they cannot live a life without their smartphones. But this is not to say that they do not hold promise of a world which is better, more open, and judicious, a world where people are mindful of cultural sensitivities.
To an employer, the Z-ers fully understand the importance of developing new skills and volunteer for activities outside of school. They have arrived at a point of learning and understanding of things where the millennials only dreamt of at that stage. To a mother, Z-ers are free in their minds like the earlier generations never were. They can’t be compelled to do anything unless they are convinced about it.
Still, their life is hugely defined by the social media and what it brings with it — loads of information, anxiety, propaganda, truth, fiction…and so on. Despite the choices they have to make and the challenges they face in today’s world, they are confident to take steps which they deem right. More than anything else, they give us optimism and the push to brave and realise a world which needs us as much as we need it.