Are we due for a rebalancing of the scales and will GenZ be the generation who brings that balance to fruition?
Social Change, or cultural change theorists have long debated the modes of social change in order to unpack how change eventually comes about in society. Defined as “the alteration of mechanisms within the social structure, characterized by changes in cultural symbols, rules of behavior, social organizations, or value systems”, social change evolved as a more modern take of social equilibrium theory, which was thought to be theoretical framework that assumed that when balance was disturbed in a social system, the system would eventually and organically “to return to its original state.”
Essentially, what’s been knocked off course in a society will eventually be put back into place by larger, organically driven forces.
Both theories interrogate societal change and evolution overtime, and the variables in culture that ultimately cause those shifts. Today, as the world vibrates within a frequency of chaos and uncertainty, we find ourselves in the midst of some of the same theoretical debates as we encounter large pendulum-swinging change, the destination & order of which, are unknown.
The idea of pushing society to a new state of change, or returning it to a state of equilibrium seems to already be happening for one particular generation. The youngest members of our society, GenZ, are on track to become one of the most cautiously conservative & modest generations to date, a stark contrast to previous more rebellious, less mindful generations in their age brackets. But what forces are responsible pushing them towards more “safe” and “cautious” behavior, and how might this ultimately take shape in the future?
Today, we are living in the aftermath of the “knowledge economy” boom, a shift that has dramatically changed how we consume information and the rate at which this consumption occurs- especially news. How we share news & information, and what we share, has directly impacted the knowledge economy boom and pushed it into a new kind of anxiety-driven, hyper-work, hyper-vigilant cultural moment of activism, paranoia and fear. While this does impact all consumers, it is actively informing the perspectives, mindsets and values of GenZ consumers specifically.
This is evident in GenZ’s relationship with technology and social media as that what they do, how they do it, what it looks like and most importantly, how its captured, are daily, sometimes anxiety inducing, concerns for them. Because of this, the young generation has learned to be inherently mindful of their actions at all times. They have even famously created dual online identities so that they have the freedom to be themselves in private, but also the ability to reflect a more wholesome, socially acceptable version of themselves in public.
The result is a generation of young people who are actively cautious and aware of their actions, their whereabouts and their overall presence in any space. They are always on guard, and mindful of ensuring that what they do doesn’t negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. This also means that they are avid observers of previous generations, namely Millennials, to see how the boundaries they are pushing may reflect on them first, before choosing to pursue the same actions.
For instance, the facts and figures around teens and young adults not having as much sex as previous generations, has been widely circulated with awe. The reasons for this shift vary widely, however the decline of the appeal of hook-up culture, especially for a generation obsessed with positive reputations, is on of many leading drivers. The choice to delay marriage by cash-strapped Millennials and their general avoidance to start families too young has also fed into the so-called “sex drought”.
In observing how Millennials are re-examining definitions of monogamy, love, sex, marriage and divorce, GenZ consumers are consciously choosing to partner with others more cautiously or simply not at all. Should this trend continue, GenZ has the potential to be the first generation to rejuvenate the state of marriage by returning to some of the traditional values associated with love & matrimony.
What defines “fun” today is also different from the past as Millennials and GenZers are increasingly seeking out activities that benefit their overall health and wellbeing. From younger consumers choosing to go out less often, to the decline in the appeal of alcohol, consumers are simply choosing to not partake (& not to be captured) in the signature drunken nights that marked the youth of past generations. The legalization of marijuana is also aiding in this decline for spirits as some younger consumers see it as a healthier, less harmful alternative to alcohol. The current war on opioids will also likely have a lasting effect with GenZers who have grown up watching their friends, family members and favorite celebrities suffer from overdoses and bad decisions.
While no generation will likely exist without some drug use, GenZ is poised to be the most well-armed generation when it comes to decision making which means that they may in fact make better choices around drug use or simply seek options that are less detrimental to their health.
The gluttony & greed of their parents literally lead to the collapse of economies around the globe, so it’s no wonder that in addition to abstaining from sex, drugs & alcohol, GenZers are avoiding overindulgences in many areas with the hope of not repeating the errors of the past. From monitoring digital habits and seeking ways to disconnect from social media for the sake of healthier mental and emotional wellbeing, to being mindful of consumption habits and the material items they consume, young consumers have become very proactive in establishing consciously conservative habits & values in just about everything they do.
It is a well known fact that identity has served as a main stage for change in an increasingly diverse America. Younger generations are responsible for dissecting & deconstructing antiquated labels, and stereotypes regarding gender, and race. Today, identity has become multilayered & nuanced, and simultaneously weird & spectacular. How we choose to exist today and in the future will continue to defy rules and societal expectations and GenZ consumers will be the ones to nourish the evolution of this space.
This identity evolution would almost seem to be in direct conflict with the consciously conservative choices of GenZers. However, for this generation, restrictions are not applied to their personhood, but instead are considered for their choices and future decision making. In this case, freedom of expression, and conscious conservatism must be able to coexist within one another, as nothing is as important as authenticity of self.
Whether the world is on a progressive, evolutionary trajectory of change, or whether it may be shifting back to a space of equilibrium, it is important to keep in mind that it is very unlikely that we could ever truly go back to the states of our pasts- it would simply be impossible to ignore the larger shifts that have permanently impacted our cultural norms today. Culture, religion, heritage, and the changes in demographics means that the US of the past will continue to be the US of the past. But just as nostalgic references and cultural artifacts continue to enter and reenter our atmosphere in more modern ways, so too can some of the values from our pasts.