This is my first semester back in school in about five years.
After a recent near-death experience, I decided that since I had always wanted to be a writer, there was no time like the present to start.
So with considerably more life under my belt, I enrolled for spring semester and it has been like studying abroad in the country of Gen Z.
I was born about a month after the Chernobyl disaster, so I grew up in a very different world from most of my classmates.
I remember smoking sections in restaurants and buying theatre tickets at the World Trade Center.
Facebook was invented my senior year of high school, so I never had to navigate the onslaught of attacks to one’s self-worth that can come with social media during formative years. I didn’t have to worry about all my stupid mistakes being documented and shared with the world in perpetuity on the internet.
However, in the dark recesses of the internet exists the Myspace profile that my best friend made me during junior year. Let’s just say that I am genuinely shocked that that profile hasn’t come back to haunt me and limit career opportunities.
The Pandora’s Box of social media has shaped this next generation on a level that can be equated to the effect of WWII on the Greatest Generation. While what my fellow millennials and Gen Zers will do with the awesome power granted by the internet remains to be seen, I am more hopeful than I was at the beginning of the semester.
Gen Z has had a lifetime of access to the entire world in their pockets.
I think that this has made them into exceptionally effective communicators.
They are also more discerning about the validity of information than previous generations.
It wasn’t Gen Zers who were blasting Facebook with posts about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop.
For all its many faults, Twitter’s 240-character limit has taught them how to effectively relay information in a succinct manner. We have already seen the positive effects of this in how masterfully the Parkland activists used social media to launch a movement and effect real world change.
But for every David Hogg, there is an Elliot Rodger who became radicalized online and killed six people in Santa Barbara in 2014.
We live in an age where mass shooters can livestream their violence and others can rise up to prevent future violence. The radicalization of young predominantly white men online poses one of the biggest threats to national security as we wrap up this tumultuous decade.
The propagation of misinformation through social media has led to a rise in anti-Semitic violence, white supremacy and nationalism both here and in Europe especially.
The last time the nations of Europe got whipped up into a nationalist frenzy, how’d that work out?
But even scarier than European fascism being back is the dangerous resurgence of scrunchies and bucket hats. Who made these popular again? Like, I want that person’s name.
Bucket hats have only ever looked good on the lead singer of the New Radicals in the “You Get What You Give” video.
And as for scrunchies, my feeling can best be summed up by Carrie Bradshaw as she screeched at her boyfriend Jack Berger, “But here’s my crucial point. No woman who works at W Magazine and lives on Perry Street would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant in a scrunchie!”
Despite the prevalence of people absent-mindedly gazing at their phones while maniacally vaping, the campus feels more connected and engaged than before.
Ten years ago, people only wore OCC sweatshirts ironically at parties. Very few people seemed genuinely proud to be an OCC student.
But now I see students wearing OCC gear throwing around a frisbee in front of the Chemistry building. Now it feels more like a college and less like a commuter school.
People actually hang out here and are proud of their school and now I’m one of them.