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.
Also read: Parenting a Gen Z-er
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.