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 1980th, I always used the term “Television”. At that time, it has been 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 1980th, I kind of extrapolated. And ten years later exactly this generation I had all my nightmares with, entered the planet earth and is now sitting in our schools, our offices, our subways, 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 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 anime-characters from Japanese cartoons. However, there is something called KGOY (children to grow older, younger). Or, using a typical example, the five-year-olds having go to school guidance. Or, 15-year-olds making consumer decision for the family.

While all educational and commercials move the Generation Z towards KGOY – by the way, I called that 1982 “The Disappearance of Childhood” – Generation Z is counteracting and remains in the stage of 10-year-olds forever. We could call Generation Z also F10 (similar to a fashion store with the title F21). Then 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, 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. All these trivia 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 almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, 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 we have now. We use the terms “Fake News” and “Facebook”.

On the one hand, we have the world as CNN makes us see, on the other hand, we have tweets, which also create reality. The Generation Z is guided by “influencers” who make them wearing 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, behave nice – 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 audience), and some 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 moved one step further. They see themselves in this world of no loyalty. They leave a job on 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 talks just about one group: Teachers at schools and professors at universities are guides by their evaluation of their performance, done by Generation Z. They must make Generation Z happy. When teachers criticise a student or even dares 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.

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

As a final thought, I would like to bring in Huxley with his great book “Brave New World”. He was trying to tell us what afflicted the 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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