Spencer Rendahl: Generation Z

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(Host) And now we turn to our Sunday
Essay.  Thanks to social and technological changes, every generation
sees the world through fresh eyes. Writer Suzanne Spencer Rendahl
examines the unique shifts her children are experiencing as members of
so-called Generation Z.

(Spencer Rendahl)
A few months ago, my seven-year-old daughter asked me "Who is Elvis?"
"He was a famous singer," I replied. "He sang from the fifties until the
late seventies, when Momma was a girl like you." She furrowed her brow
in concentration, and I waited for her standard follow-up question.
Finally, she demanded: "Which century?"

I caught my breath,
answered, and began wondering about the divide between my kids’ post-Y2K
generation – called Generation Z – and previous ones.

course, every older generation ponders and often bemoans the younger
generation’s newfangled and perhaps not-as-wholesome ways, but this
divide seems bigger. First, there’s technology. My kids will probably
never use a typewriter or a camera with film. My daughter knows that
Momma’s "phone" has her address book, calendar, record collection, photo
album, navigator, newspaper, weather report and camera. She’ll probably
never use a physical phonebook or encyclopedia; we look things up on a
laptop or – yes – Momma’s phone. My kids may be part of the last
generation to read from printed books; more and more of her friends are
reading on tablets.

I had been looking forward to watching the
inauguration live with my daughter, since we both had the day off. Then
she got invited to a birthday party during the ceremony. I asked her if
she wanted go to the party or stay home and watch the inauguration with
me. No pressure. Her brow furrowed. "Can I watch it on the computer
later?" she asked. She had her birthday cake and watched history later.

Z also inhabits a new social and environmental landscape. When my
daughter announced that she wanted to marry her best girlfriend when she
grows up, I told her that she can in much of New England. In addition
to spending the majority of her life with an African American president,
she became so used to thinking of the Secretary of State as a woman’s
job that she expressed shock that we have a new one named John. On the
other hand, we rarely talk about the weather without also discussing
climate change, for her a lifelong reality.

When I wonder what
else my kids will see in the coming century, I think of my mother’s
mother, born in 1914, the daughter of German immigrants who settled in
Missouri. She lived through the Dust Bowl and World War II, watched the
twin World Trade Center towers rise into the sky in the late 1960s and
early 70s, and then sat on her living room couch and watched them crash
to the ground on her television a few years before she died. My daughter
will only know those buildings from pictures; we’ll see the memorial
together for the first time this spring.

My daughter recently
informed me that if she lives to be 95, she’ll get to see the next
century. "If I live to 130, I will too," I replied. But I didn’t have
the heart to tell her I’m not sure I want to.

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