Let me be perfectly clear… if you’re like me and were born in the mid-90’s, you’re a (z)illennial. This is what I lovingly call the generational cusp between being the youngest millennials and the oldest Gen Z’s. Don’t let any Buzzfeed article or old grumpy comedian tell you otherwise! I guarantee that most of us mid-90’s kids don’t feel like we fit in entirely with either generation, especially with all the sweeping generalizations and sensational buzzwords the media loves to make up about both groups.
(Z)illennials have been given a unique perspective in history; born just before the turn of the century, we were raised without cellphones and laptops just like the kids who came before us. We played outside. We built forts. We went to Blockbuster to rent our movies! Many of us were avid readers to pass the time and feed our growing imaginations.
Computers were obviously a thing, but there usually was only one chunky desktop per household, used by the entire family for a singular purpose: a tool for information (and the occasional CD-ROM game, if you were lucky like me).
Then things began to change. DVDs began to replace VHS tapes. Cameras became digital and portable. Video games became exponentially more complex and could fit in your backpack. The mp3 player began to replace CDs. We witnessed the birth of the iPod, then the first iPhone. Cell phones suddenly became small and cool and more affordable. Instant messaging rose in popularity, and before we could blink it was available on our QWERTY keyboard flip phones.
As our childhood transitioned into adolescence, technology grew and changed rapidly, and we became the first pre-teens & teens to individually have cell phones, laptops and social media. In a matter of a few short years, we went from a gradual increase to an avalanche of technology all around us, growing each day exponentially. Many of us made our first Facebook and Twitter accounts in middle school, hopped on Instagram freshman year, and spent the rest of high school witnessing the supernova explosion of apps and social media sites such as Snapchat, Vine and the birth of social media influencers and YouTube celebrity culture.
In most ways, the last decade has been an insanely cool ride in terms of being able to hop onto this social media bullet train as it was happening. When it was still the “wild west”, we never knew what was coming next. The possibilities were endless! With it came connection, creativity, excitement and fun.
Nothing stays new forever. Eventually it becomes the norm, it becomes a normal part of life, it becomes an expectation and a habit. Like everything else to come before it, social media aged out of its wild childlike energy. It became mainstream, a business, a political tool, a major vessel for capitalism and economics. While we were growing up, so was social media. Unfortunately, our young brains are still forming, and we just happen to be the first generation of guinea pigs subjected to whatever the still unknown long-term effects might be.
Before I was an adult, social media was nothing but positive in my experience. It gave me practically limitless access to information. I learned from it. I connected to so many life-long friends on it. It fueled my curiosity and creativity, gave me an outlet for my video-making and musical curiosity, made pursuing an acting career much more accessible, and exposed me to so much more of the world and its social justice issues than I would have ever experienced without it.
In my desperation to hold onto what was, insisting subconsciously it provided the same benefits and joy it used to, I was unaware of the negative effects beginning to take hold. FOMO, feelings of inadequacy, unending advertising influence, fake news, anxiety, negativity, the inability to comfortably live without it. Many aspects of it became a chore, a necessity that you could no longer let go of in fear of missing out on an opportunity or falling behind on society’s news-cycle. The information turnover has become so fast that no human being can fully keep up, so you never want to stop. The overload has eaten up attention span, interest and memory retention like a starving lion. What used to be 80/20 benefits vs. consequences is now 20/80.
Finally realizing that what used to be creative thought & energy had been replaced by mindless, addictive social media scrolling was what drove me to ease off the gas a bit. I’ve disabled notifications for all my accounts, scattered & hidden most of the apps in folders on my phone and have muted/unfollowed a fair amount of people who don’t directly add value to my life. I’m taking the biggest step back from Twitter, because in the last few years it has become a relentless negative tweet-storm with no end in sight. The ROI for that platform is VERY low. I’ve already reduced my Facebook usage to almost purely career-related private groups and family. As far as Instagram goes? It being one of the “newer” platforms, after the release of the mute feature I have regained control over my IG flow and really do enjoy most of the time I spend on there. I really utilize its DM features to keep in touch with friends and use my profile/story to keep a sort of visual public journal and professional landing page. I’ve let go of the need to grow followers, become an influencer and all that garbage, and I can honestly say as soon as I let go of that the anxiety dissipated and it became fun again.
I’m only a few weeks into this social media reduction, and it’s freaking hard! The desire to keep checking is super strong (and the FOMO is real) so I’ve had to replace this urge with other brain-stimulating activities. I’ve picked up a 3-month trial subscription to Audible for household chores & drives (so I don’t have the instinct to fill brain boredom with timeline scrolling), I’ve pulled some old favorite fantasy books off my shelf for waiting-in-line and bathroom entertainment and bought an old-fashioned alarm clock so I resist the temptation to use my phone right before and after sleep. These are seemingly simple and “duh” solutions to what feels like an insurmountable problem, but are way harder to stick to than it looks. No matter how old you are, I highly recommend taking a step back to see where and how social media may be zapping your artistic spirit and adjust accordingly.
I think it’s time for (z)illennials to take matters into our own hands and use our unique perspective to craft and promote a healthy balance. Technology and social media are not going away, they will only continue to grow and evolve… just like us.