Millennials Are Over. It's Gen Z's Turn To Ruin Everything.
We're getting old and losing our edge. Here's some advice — and some warnings — for the generation claiming our crown.
Dear Teens of the World,
Take out your AirPods for a second. We need to talk.
For the past 10 years, my friends and I were the generational stars of the party: They called us millennials, and we were the envy and fascination of the world. Marketers craved our approval, CEOs wanted to hire us, the media fought for our attention, and parents everywhere worried that we were doing sex wrong.
It was fun while it lasted. But like a slice of avocado toast left too long in the sun, our cultural relevance has begun to rot. 2017 is the beginning of the end of the millennial era, and we are rapidly ceding influence to you, a group now dubbed Gen Z.
Some strange, exhilarating, and awful things are going to happen to you as my aging generation hands over the crown. You will be celebrated and scorned, built up and then torn down. You’ll be blamed for a series of absurd and unlikely trends that probably have nothing to do with you: If a company is failing or a TV show bombs or a weird new drug becomes popular, it’ll be all your fault.
I remember the good old days, when we were young and capable of messing things up. We killed golf, destroyed J.Crew, summoned the end of bar soap, eradicated vacations, ruined sex, abandoned cereal, and gave up on democracy and the American dream.
Sometimes it felt weird, being blamed for everything that wasn't working. But seriously, cherish every minute of it, especially when you do something good for once. You might usher in an era of lavish office perks and meaningful career paths. You may reinvent brunch. You won’t have the joy of inventing the selfie, but you’ll probably take it in an exciting new direction. You’ll almost certainly get a Time magazine cover, and an ambitious media company owned by old people will definitely declare itself your generational voice.
The oldest Gen Z'ers are turning 18 this year, and we millennials, long used to being the cool kids, can already feel your cultural power pushing us to the side. While big and deeply uncool companies once paid $20,000 an hour to learn how millennials think, they've now moved on to shelling out cash for Gen Z experts, frequently paying teens themselves to advise on what's cool. Gen Z has already been declared "the next big retail disruptor," and consumer goods companies are already getting anxious about whether you’ll buy their shampoo.
Just this year Google spent big bucks commissioning an entire study on how your generation thinks, and it revealed that teens love Google (also pizza, Doritos, and ice cream). One company has developed a "Gen Z Lilith Fair." Meanwhile, landlords are developing Gen Z rental strategies, churches are trying to help Gen Z kids find God, and the New York Times has begun publishing worried Gen Z explainers.
If I’m honest with myself, the writing has been on the wall for a while. While you crazy kids were busy 3D-printing fidget spinners in your school science labs, we millennials grew up and aged out. We're getting married, buying homes, having babies, and worrying about our retirement funds. In short: Millennials are over.
It’s a hard moment for us to process. Obviously we’re a generation defined by our abject narcissism, whose self-esteem will crumble the moment we're no longer the center of attention. But somehow, slipping into obsolescence also feels like a relief. For one, the Olds in our offices no longer look to us to explain the latest and hippest tech product or internet thing. An uncle wants someone to explain a Facebook meme this Thanksgiving? Great. My 14-year-old cousin can handle that one.
Getting old also means becoming more comfortable with yourself. I recently went to a music festival where the average age was about 16 and realized, you know what? I will probably never wear jorts over a head-to-toe fishnet bodysuit, and that's ok. We millennials had Delia’s and the Limited Too. You, Gen Z, are doomed to endure an age of wide-leg pants and oddly cropped shirts.
But I do want to offer a few words of advice before you ascend the cultural throne. First, you’ll be lied about, constantly. I see that you're already casually "disrupting the way people are shopping" and slowly destroying your lives via smartphones. Congrats. Try to be patient, shake off the haters, and realize that no single trend piece can capture the complexities of a generation made up of over 65 million people.
Second, your youth allows you to take advantage of opportunities that will shape the course of your lives. We millennials created and mastered social media, but even Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel is a married stepdad now. Some members of your generation will undoubtedly found new companies and launch new products that will alter the world in unexpected ways — and many of you will intuitively know how to use those new products better than the rest of us. There's an entire career to be made that way.
When I graduated into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, one thing I had going for me was that I knew how to use shiny new internet things better than Generation X types. I could have never imagined that the job I took running a popular beer brand's Facebook page and tweeting for one of the most loathed cell phone carriers in the country would lead to a rewarding career in media. Soon, you too will have the chance to be the with-it young person in the office, outshining and outsmarting your millennial coworkers at almost everything that matters.
So make the most of it. It probably feels right now like you’ll be young and in the spotlight forever, but remember that you too will be losing your edge in the late 2020s. As for your coming decade in power, I have one urgent request, and the future of our planet may literally depend on it: Please do not let Jake Paul run for president.
Taylor Lorenz is a journalist and editorial strategist.