Neil Postman on Generation Z

von Chris Scholz am Mai 6, 2018

Neil Postman did not write this little essay.

But he might have done so.

Please read it, enjoy it, give feedback.

The article will be part of an upcoming book „Generation Z in Europe“.

Christian Scholz[1]

Generation Z and the end of culture – an article never written by Neil Postman[2]

I just think it is great that I got the chance to talk about something I never thought about in this terminology. And this is what you call Generation Z.

When I wrote about media at the beginning of the 1980s, I always used the term “Television”. At that time, it was the medium of the choice. Now it is the Internet, it is WhatsApp, it is Netflix, it is Instagram, and it is – just look at President Trump – of course Twitter and Facebook.

When I wrote about people at the beginning of the 1980s, I extrapolated. And ten years later exactly, this generation about which I had all my nightmares entered the planet Earth and is now sitting in our schools, our offices, our subways and our homes.

It is bizarre, what I see when I look at all the young people of this Generation Z: they no longer talk to each other, they text. They no longer communicate; they entertain each other by using this tiny device called a smartphone. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images via Instagram and Snapchat. They do not argue about propositions and visions of the future; they argue about good looks, celebrities and commercials. For them, ‘liking’ is not an emotion, it is clicking buttons.

When the serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, the death of culture is a clear possibility.

Much of Generation Z appears to be childish. They act like little kids. Like little amine-characters from Japanese cartoons. However, there is something called KGOY (kids to grow older, younger). Or, using a typical example, the five-year-olds having to go to school guidance, or, 15-year-olds making consumer decisions for the family.

While education and commercials move Generation Z towards KGOY – by the way, I called that 1982 in a book title The Disappearance of Childhood – Generation Z is doing the opposite and remains in the stage of 10-year-olds forever. We could also call Generation Z (similar to a F21, the name of a fashion store) F10. The life of Generation Z becomes distracted by trivia, and life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments and tweets – with no responsibility, no seriousness and no real meaning.

The Internet does not only reflect human nature and the nature of Generation Z. The Internet creates human nature and, in particular, it creates Generation Z. Look at all these nonsense on the internet: The girls are getting rich by posting videos of a new eye shadow, the boys by posting videos of them playing video games. The Internet has not been created for idiots. It creates them. They live in a world displayed on the screen.

Long ago I wrote the following paragraph: “The Internet is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this word in the exact sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing”.

This is exactly what we have now. We use the terms “Fake News” and “Facebook”.

On the one hand, we have the world as CNN makes us see it, and on the other, we have tweets, which also create reality. Generation Z is guided by ‘influencers’ who make them wear certain jeans – of course, basically all the same ones – who make them love certain movies – of course, basically all the same ones – who make them love certain music – of course, basically all the same ones – and, finally, who make them find certain ways to amuse themselves – of course, basically all the same ones.

Contrary to Generation X, the kids of Generation Z look nice and behave nicely – even to older people, even though they don’t care at all. Babyboomers in the younger age told themselves never to become older than 30. Generation Z never really considers anything of relevance that comes from someone older than 30. The Internet filters these persons out on screen, and they filter them out in reality.

Currently, some people criticise Donald Trump for running his presidency like a reality show. He seems to love it, the media seem to love it (because it creates audiences) and voters love it. It is all created by the media. In the 1980s, we watched shows such as Dallas, in the 1990s, Beverly Hills 90210. And everybody loved it; everybody hated it, everybody got excited.

Generation Z moves one step further. They see themselves in this world of no loyalty. They leave a job with no notice, not caring about all the people who are hit by that. Of course, J. R. Ewing did the same by firing people. But Generation Z believes that life is for personal amusement and fun and laughter. Generation Z is happy.

But who is responsible for all that? My answer: Teachers, parents, politicians, CEOs, companies, media. Therefore, we all are responsible.

Let’s talk just about one of these groups: teachers at schools and professors at universities are guided by their evaluation of their performance, conducted by Generation Z. They are supposed to make Generation Z happy. When teachers criticise a student or even dare to give bad grades, they get into trouble. Teachers turn into entertainers. They are part of the amusement industry. With all the distraction around, teachers have hardly any chance to talk seriously with students about serious topics. And so, they give up.

Generation Z is happy. The goal is to make someone happy and avoid negative experiences; this is something we saw in the Soma drug envisioned by Aldous Huxley. Every group trying to make this generation happy is producing Soma for the Generation Z.

As a final thought, I would like to bring in another thought from Aldous Huxley. He was trying to tell us that what afflicted people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.

And this is exactly my fear when I look at Generation Z.

[1] Christian Scholz (scholz@1v.com), Professor for Organizational Behaviour, Human Resource Management and Information Management. While in his book Generation Z (Wiley 2014) being more optimistic about the young generation, he follows also to some degree the logic Neil Postman might have laid out, if he would have talked about Generation Z.

[2] Neil Postman, 1931 – 2003, Professor for Communication Theory. Author, between others, of The disappearance of childhood, New York 1982, Amusing ourselves to death, speech given at the Frankfurt Book Fair 1984, Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show business, New York 1985. The article “Generation Z and the end of culture – article never written by Neil Postman“ is inspired by these three sources.

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