21 February 2024

Think again, Gen Z


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By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

More than 15 years ago, I used to tell my students that they were more intelligent than I was, simply because they were born with more advanced technology.

Albeit back in my mind, I ask myself if the future generations would be wiser. They might have more information and knowledge at their fingertips, but does it mean they have more wisdom?

Every demographic cohort who is born within approximately 15-25 years from 1901 has been given a generational identity. With minor variations in the time frame, the first of these generations named the greatest generation (GI Gen) was born in 1901-1927. The last of them, i.e., Generation ∝ (Alpha) has been growing in number since 2010. The future generations who will be born after 2030 will possibly be named Gen β (Beta), then Gen γ (Gamma), and so on.

In between, there is the silent generation (1928–1945), the Baby Boom Generation i.e., the Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennial Generations or Gen Y (1981-1996), and Generation Z i.e., Gen Z, iZen or Zoomers (1997-2010).

Most likely none of those who were born before 1900 are not with us today – hence “rightly” named as the Lost Generation. I wonder if their stories should be truly lost.

It is the lost generations who invented electromagnetism (1820), the first enzyme diastase (1833), the Doppler effect (1842), the Germ theory of diseases (1861), the periodic table (1869), X-rays (1895), radioactivity in (1896), basic principles of the greenhouse effect (1896). This a few of many more inventions of the lost generations.

Behind their success stories lies endless curiosity for new knowledge. Carrying the essence and lessons of those inventions forward is inevitable to roll the cycle of innovation.

Indeed, remembering the past is also important to know what was right and what was wrong. As we say, “Learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present”.

Like it or not, our future generations seem to lose the essence of that glorious past. As we speak, Gen Z is aiming to become content creators, internet celebrities, social media influencers, and motivators compared to their predecessors, Millennials or Gen X, who aim to become doctors, engineers, or scientists. This corroborates the assertion that Gen Z might lack curiosity for invention, i.e., new knowledge.

Well, if AI is taking charge of future doctors, engineers, and scientists, as predicted, then rightly so, Gen Z would need to change their ambitions differently. Or does Gen Z have different ambitions out of fantasy and fascination for the digital world?

In case the prediction of AI replacing men from their century-old professions such as doctors, engineers, or scientists comes true, Gen Z might not have options but to find new career paths.

Of course, one may ask, will AI be capable of becoming more efficient than Gen Z as an internet celebrity, social media influencer, motivator, or content creator? The extrapolated prediction would lead to the conclusion that AI might replace Gen Z too from their cherished career.

At this juncture of discourse, let us assume that we have more doctors than we need and that AI is not replacing them. In such a situation doctors will not lose it all – simply because even a doctor needs a doctor.

However, if a generation has more social media influencers and is not being replaced by AI, then whom will they influence, and for what purpose? Is it to control the use of social media or to motivate others to engage in other professions?

Social media influencers then will be trapped in the paradox of social influence. This is why Gen Z needs to think twice to set their ambition.

However, the question is, who will educate them to find their career path? Their earlier generation, Gen Y, is in the middle of their dilemma. Neither they can accept their predecessors Gen X nor they might want to be completely entrapped in social media. On top of that, Gen Z prefers to be “themselves”.

When Gen Z is more emotionally intelligent and seems to be at the forefront of innovation, arguably they are also thought to be more narcissistic than previous generations. Given their focus on self-promotion and self-image, this is not unlikely. Sadly too, Gen Z youths are more likely to be diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disorders than older generations. Surely they are known for their shorter span of attention.

Dependence and reliance on virtual communication and engaging oneself in the digital world play an important role in those rather unwanted personality traits. Ironically, Gen X and Gen Y seem to promote and advocate engaging Gen Z in the digital world as much as they demand.

Not surprisingly then, Gen Z is more for innovation and not for invention. While Gen Z needs to think about their future plan and career path beyond the digital world, Gen X and Gen Y also need to think about their reliance on social media to educate Gen Z.

In conjunction with the World Children’s Day that has just passed us, perhaps a deeper reflection is needed to understand that having done something does not necessarily mean it was done right or it will turn right in the end.

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at tarique@um.edu.my