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The Generational Conflict Narrative is Stupid

I scroll through my Google News feed somewhere between two and five million times a day. This is, after all, the age of misinformation, and I’ll be damned if I don’t stay up to date on the latest headlines force-fed to me by a corporation that makes zillions on advertising. 

True to form, Google’s news service uses content delivery algorithms to decide what stories to show me. They try their best to balance my moderate interest in legitimately important stories with my deeper passions, like video game trailers and reality TV. And every once in a while, I’ll click one story about the woman who put Gorilla Glue in her hair, and Google’s adamant that I see every piece the internet can muster about her present state. That’s where I’m at with the Gen Z versus Millennials thing.

Before I go further, let’s throw my cards on the table: I try to keep a balanced media diet, but honestly, I don’t try that hard. I keep my eye on a few key outlets and spend the rest of my time doomscrolling. I don’t think I’m alone in that. So, just like your aunt on Facebook is absolutely sure you’ll be as interested as she is in the latest Q drop delineating the journey of 100,000 children from daylight abduction to Hillary Clinton’s skin cream sub-basement, I feel confident you’ll have seen the stories I’m talking about without questioning the branching paths our computers may be taking us in.

But maybe you haven’t. Here are some of the headlines I’ve been inundated with lately:

Gen Z Is Telling Us To Stop Wearing Skinny Jeans, And Millennials Are Not Having It


Gen Z is Roasting Millennials for Their Side Parts and Skinny Jeans


Millennials slam Gen Z over fashion, beauty, emoji preferences

Fox News

The representatives of an entire generation have spoken: your fashion sucks. 

But… who gives a shit? For one thing, this sort of conflict isn’t exactly new. We give Gen Z a lot of credit for the unique perspectives they gained from lives defined by internet access, but most of them are still teenagers or younger. So what’s the message here?  “Teens don’t want to dress like 30 year olds”? God-tier headline. Thanks for the news.

For clarity, I was born in 1995, which, by most definitions, slides me right between the two at-war cohorts. I spent more of my life hearing about “millennials” than “Gen Z”, but I had the internet for most of my life and eschewed some of the more common lifestyle choices of older folks in favor of staying in my room and complaining about anxiety. So who knows.

I think Millennials would sometimes like to see themselves as a righteous, unique savior generation here to relieve the world from the financial greed and excesses of the Boomers who came before. And Zoomers sometimes see themselves as anathema to the pride and apparent wisdom of the all-talk-no-action Millennials barely older than them.

But more broadly, I think the evidence is still out. Generations are a weird concept, an astrology-esque method of boiling down hundreds of millions of people into short lists of easily-definable traits. The generation that gave us continued support of the Vietnam War also gave us the Civil Rights Era. Every generation marked by political activism comes with a sizable population of people who don’t give a shit. Generation Z was marked early on by increased concern with climate change, but some evidence suggests fewer Zoomers believe in man-made climate change compared to millennials, but the difference is minimal. Some people claim younger folks are more liberal, but others suggest they’re regressing toward the more conservative mean. 

Ultimately, though, trends are trends. Statistical models do their best to portray demographic differences, but “all humans between age X and Y” is too broad a category to effectively capture. That’s not to say that the statistics are inaccurate, but maybe instead that they’re more open to being misconstrued. New trends among people aged 13-22 may be indicative of massive social movement and permanent change, or they could be temporary developments experienced by a cohort still locked together in the education system. They’re still growing. That’s not to suggest that their views will necessarily become more liberal or conservative with time, but that, while some definitely know their shit, others will change their minds. Like kids do.

Maybe Millennials are Boomers in disguise, and maybe Gen Z is the Extra Greatest generation, or maybe it’s the opposite. Or maybe that’s a reductive way to look at people and we’d be better off listening to elder wisdom and younger perspectives alike.

But that’s all conjecture and think-piece nonsense. The real takeaway is for my millennials and the Gen Z’ers poised to take their place: don’t rely on teenagers to validate your fashion choices. They probably won’t. But you’re not a teenager anymore, so it’s fine. Problem solved. Fashion is dumb. We all grow up feeling self-conscious about what we wear. Actively choosing to pull that insecurity into adulthood is big stupid. Focusing on the right way to part your hair will only set you up for disappointment when hair itself falls out of fashion in 2023. Live your life, y’know?

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