Generation Z influencers challenge the snowflake label

Far from being sensitive snowflakes, many post-Millennials are driven to succeed, says Deirdre Reynolds who talks to four young influencers.

Generation Z influencers challenge the snowflake label

WITH temperatures tipped to tumble below freezing, there’s sure be plenty of snowflakes across the country this Christmas — just don’t call Adam Wyse or his peers one of them.

At 23, the Waterford City East Fianna Fáil councillor is officially a member of Ireland’s Generation Z, and just one of the high-profile post-Millennials here determined to fight back against the demographic’s ‘snowflake’ image in 2018.

Between spiralling rents, the crippling cost of third-level education and an ever-constricting jobs market, getting ahead is no joke for the rising generation, which has already lived through not one but two economic recessions, all in the full glare of social media where likes and shares count as the most important currency.

Speaking to Feelgood, he says: “I don’t think people realise how hard we have it. I’m looking myself at trying to get a mortgage to buy a house, but it’s difficult.

“Whereas before, [at 23], you’d be buying your first house, you’d be getting married, you’d be having children, I don’t think that’s realistic or possible for a lot of people at this age.

“I think that’s why some people of my generation live off short-term happiness where they do eat their avocados and eggs and they do get their hair done, and they do buy the newest gadgets, because that’s all they can realistically dream of achieving, and I think they want to make themselves feel a little bit better.

“But I don’t think we’re soft, no — I think we’re actually quite innovative.

“I think we’re up to date with the technology; we’re able to manage ourselves very well; we’re almost a different breed [to previous generations] at this age.”

Born after 1995, Gen Z — also known as the ‘iGeneration’ — is fast emerging as the one to watch among market researchers.

You can do it

Like rising star Jake Carter, however, they’re keen not to be tarred with the same elf-ish brush as their older Millennial siblings, born between 1980 and 1995, this festive season.

“I don’t really understand it whenever people say that our generation is lazy because most of the ones that I know do get out there and do want to work and see the world,” argues the 19-year-old singer, younger brother of Nathan Carter, who is currently starring in The Spectacular Aladdin Panto at the SSE Arena in Belfast.

“I always had it in my head that I wanted to be independent. Don’t get me wrong, my mum and dad support me every way, but I was always brought up with the idea that I want to be my own person.

“I only moved over to Ireland [from Liverpool] about six months ago, [but] things have been going crazy since. I do pinch myself at different times thinking, ‘Is this really all happening?’.

“In this day and age, I think people like to think that it’s more difficult, but I don’t think it actually is,” he adds. “I think it’s the same as whenever my mum and dad were growing up.

“If you want to do something, and you really strive to do it, then I believe that you can. It’s just an excuse, I think, people that sit in the house and do nothing.”

Growing up in an era more bust than boom, it’s an attitude shared by other youth influencers.

Live life to the full

Despite landing her dream job straight out of college after a degree in journalism in DCU, RTÉ news2day presenter Zainab Boladale insisted today’s Gen Z-ers don’t expect their avocado toast handed to them on a plate.

“My parents are Nigerian so the way they would have thought about their future would have been completely different to how I think about mine,” says the 21-year-old, who moved over 8,000km from Lagos to Ennis with her family when she was four.

“From what I know, they were just as ambitious, but because of their context, the opportunities that were available to them were very limited.

“That could be one of the reasons, I feel very ambitious and I want to live life to the fullest. I’ve always been taught to make the most out of every opportunity and that’s what shapes every choice I make in life and in my career.

“People my age could be painted with the same brush,” she continues. “I think the misconception people have about us is that we’re all liberal snowflakes and that we only have first world problems.

“I agree that we are more accepting as a generation but I wouldn’t say we’re all liberal. I know people who have strict and firm views about many controversial issues — just because one view is the loudest doesn’t mean it’s the opinion of the majority.

“I think the biggest difficulty facing people my age is the fact that big steps like buying a house or owning a car in the near future seems [impossible] simply because of how expensive things are.

“The cost of sharing a place and public transport is weighing down the pockets of those [of us] who have jobs; I can’t imagine what it’s like for those finding it difficult to get a job in their industry or even just a job that’s paid.”

As the first true digital natives, perhaps it’s no surprise that so many appear to be turning to their smartphones to get ahead.

Juggling six-second Vine videos, 280-character tweets and disappearing Snapchat messages, post-Millennials have been accused of having shorter attention spans

than graduates of previous generations such as X or Y.

Online anxiety

However, flitting from app to app also makes today’s teens better multi-taskers, according to final year journalism student and blogger Rachel Farrell, who founded fashion and lifestyle blog ‘Oh Hey There Rachel’ five years ago at just 14 years old.

“I think my parents’ generation find it hard to grasp that many people make a living from blogging,” says the 19-year-old from Kildare, who also works part-time as a stylist and news reporter. “Technology has definitely been the divisive factor between my career path and theirs.

“As a college student, the pressure, I think, is similar. We all struggle to think about what we want to do when we’re older — but perhaps [due to technology] our career choices vary to what they had.

“I probably use all [of the social media apps] for the blog and my journalism career. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Tumblr, Periscope, Vine — you name it, I’ve tried it.

“Although it can be hard to admit, social media can be pretty destructive if you’re not in the right headspace,” she added. “Messaging apps are definitely what I struggle with the most.

“I hate that people can message constantly and tell when I’m online or not — it gives me anxiety. That’s definitely an issue the older generation didn’t have to face.

“I go through phases of posting a lot and then taking a step back every now and then when I need a break.

“Other than that, many of us still face the same issues people faced 30 years ago — earning and saving money, renting difficulties, struggling to find a job.”

Ahead of his nationwide Three Things Tour next year, social media fanatic Jake Carter confessed to having a love/hate relationship with his iPhone too.

“Social media’s definitely a big factor in my life at the minute,” he explains.

“My life and my career, I guess, revolve around social media. I would be on it every couple of hours a day to answer [fans’] questions and to update people with what’s coming next in my life and my career.

“There’s always negative comments, especially when you’re in the public eye. Whenever I first started singing, and people started to get to know me, I found it really hard to just ignore the comments — I always wanted to write something back.

“But I’ve sort of grown to just accept it — there’s always going to be one person.”

Contrary to the nickname, there’s nothing flaky about today’s so-called snowflakes, agrees Adam Wyse.

Formerly Ireland’s youngest ever mayor, now the local politician has designs on the Dáil, and is hoping Snapchat can help.

“Every generation will always kind of pick on the younger generation,” reckoned the WIT alumnus, who was co-opted onto Waterford City and County Council following the sudden death of his father, Fianna Fáil councillor Gary Wyse in 2013, before successfully running for reelection the next year. “I have a younger sister who’s 15, she’s only seven years younger than me, yet I still get on to her about being on her phone all the time.

“I would say that smartphones are almost up there with the wheel as one of the best inventions of all time. I’m on pretty much every social media site — I find them extremely important.

“I’ve talked to some of the older county councillors and they say, ‘Well, if someone wanted me, they can come and knock on my door’, but I think your job is to be as available as possible to the public that you represent, so I don’t mind if someone writes to me on Snapchat looking for something.

“I’d have close friends that I’d have on the app, and even they’d be contacting me about issues or they’d be sending me pictures of potholes in their estate saying, ‘Will you sort this, mayor?’, almost taking the mick, but at the same time, you have to actually look after it.

“I’ve never been one to shout my opinion from the outside. I don’t think it does much good.

“I’ve always said I’d love to be involved in national politics and actually try and change the way that we do things. If a situation arose that I thought I could get on a ticket and run for general election, I’d love to do it.”

Brushing off the group’s snowflake label, now Generation Z poster girl Rachel Farrell is just hoping her career snowballs instead.

“It’s such a sweeping statement,” she stays of the expression, first used in the US to describe the perceived hypersensitivity of the ‘Homeland Generation’, as the demographic is also known Stateside.

“To put a whole generation under the same [umbrella] is unnecessary.

“I’m sure there were people years ago that were equally as self-entitled or oversensitive — it’s just more noticeable now because of the ability to share our thoughts online.

“I’ve always been really career driven and would love to see myself working in the media or fashion, or both, when I graduate next year.

“Most people I know are incredibly hardworking, determined and educated about social and political issues,” she adds. “Many work two jobs just to pay rent in Dublin.

“As a generation, we’ve learned to hustle.”

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