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An optimistic look at Generation Z

Image of a crowd of twentysomethings looking at phones and devices
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An optimistic look at Generation Z

Stanford cultural anthropologist Roberta Katz shares some good news about the generation that grew up alongside the internet.

Gen Z, generally defined as the generation born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, is the first generation to grow up with all of the power of the internet at its fingertips. It's a generation that has been raised, to no small degree, by the internet itself.

There’s a lot of bad-mouthing of young people who seem to have their eyes glued to their phones. But in interviews for her new book, Generation Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age, Stanford cultural anthropologist Roberta Katz found that these are people who want to make a positive difference in the world. The internet has given them a front-row seat to so many problems around the globe — and, Katz said, “they want to be part of the solution.”

On this episode of School’s In, Katz, a senior research scholar at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and vice-chair of its board, joins Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to discuss how the internet has shaped the cultural norms and values of those born after 1995. 

For her book, Katz and her co-authors conducted 120 interviews, backed up with survey data from some 1,000 Gen Z-ers in the United States and another 1,000 in Britain. “Their life has been one of constant change,” Katz said. Without the relevant expertise of their teachers, parents or other adults, “they’ve had to figure out new ways of growing up. And they are learning about how to contend with this unprecedented amount of information.” 

When Katz asked the survey respondents for their favorite mode of communication, she expected to hear texting or email — but almost everyone said face to face. “These young people who have grown up in the midst of all of this digital technology are adamant about preserving our humanity, our messy, emotive humanity,” said Katz.

With fundamental technological change comes fundamental social change, Katz said. Gen Z is very aware of the risks to humanity today — “climate change, gun violence, you name it,” she said. “And they care about each other. It’s all about keeping us from being machines.”

You can listen to School's In on SiriusXM, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

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