Substack Podcast #020: Gen Z with Terry Nguyen
We spoke with Terry Nguyen of gen yeet, a newsletter about Gen Z culture, memes, and trends. Her honest and thoughtful writing covers youth culture on the Internet, technology and consumer trends, and generational commentary – all with the goal of demystifying and humanizing Gen Z.
While Terry’s day job is writing at Vox on cultural trends, she started her newsletter because she wanted to share “a Zoomer’s perspective,” pushing the narrative around how people consider her generation and what it’s like to be a young person today.
We talked about differences in media coverage toward Millennials and Gen Z, the relationship between Terry’s writing for Vox and her newsletter, and why it’s important to reframe how people think about specific generations.
gen yeet, Terry’s newsletter
Terry on Twitter
Gen Z Will Not Save Us, Charlie Warzel’s opinion piece in The New York Times
normal beautiful people, Terry’s post where she writes about getting tired of TikTok
Why millions of college students and young adults won’t get a stimulus check, Terry’s Vox piece about coronavirus’ impact on college students
(07:55) The contrast between media coverage of Gen Z and Millennials
(18:17) How Terry balances analyzing the world through her personal lens and synthesizing the bigger picture
(21:05) Why Terry chose to focus on one topic, and what Gen Z thinks about Substack
(32:45) How Terry balances writing for her full-time job at Vox and for her newsletter
(39:48) Emerging Gen Z themes
On writing about a topic instead of herself:
I felt like writing about myself would be really boring. I don't think anyone would be interested in what I'm doing. I don't have any fascinating hot takes. I did feel like centering around a topic, and especially a salient topic that wasn't too niche that could be expanded upon, like culture and technology and memes...I felt like that just gave me a lot of room to latch onto whatever interested me.
On the long-term relevance of writing about Gen Z:
I don't know when the conversation will shift. But I do think having a pulse on youth culture while I'm young is an interesting thing. I don't know how I’ll feel about it when I'm like 35, I haven't really thought deeply about the future of that yet. But I do think there is a period of time, very certain key social and political events that define every generation, and I hope to be around for the one that defines Gen Z.
Something I really like about Gen Yeet, just from reading through it, and maybe this is the perspective of a millennial coming through, but it seems like a lot of people that write in public about Gen Z are trying to make it seem really cool and mysterious and hard to understand, because it's, I think, that illegibility that builds their brand and makes them this go-to expert on this topic. Even when it's this earnest take, it seems like it's sort of ... I get the sensation of a bemused tourist looking at a rare species at the zoo.
What I really like about Gen Yeet is that you don't do that. You write these really thoughtful essays about Gen Z that aren't really trying to be overly cool or hint that you know more than the reader. You're just a person who understands the stuff and is thinking and writing about it. Does that analysis resonate? Can you say a little more about your writing style?
Yeah, so what was really interesting to me, in the past year, since I started to create this newsletter, was that Gen Z and youth culture on the internet at large got a lot of attention from a lot of major media publications. It's kind of shocking to see how much more people are now covering that space. For me, my goal has always been to sort of demystify and make it seem like, oh, Gen Z, as with all generations, are just humans. We're socialized during a specific period of time, but I would say that the way we see the world is also very similar to the people before us, because our parents and our teachers and our brothers and sisters are also Millennials, Gen Xers, or Boomers.
My goal with this newsletter was to give it a little voice, because I felt like a lot of, as you mentioned, the reporting was just sort of earnest. Within the past couple of weeks, we've really seen this sort of explosion into the political mainstream as well, with them realizing, oh, TikTok has political power, and Zoomers know how to organize. My goal is just to really be approachable and be someone readers can relate with, as well.
Can you talk a little more about the move into the political sphere? I think there was the Trump rally, maybe, that happened recently. Is that sort of what you were thinking about?
Yeah. AOC, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tweeted out when the Trump rally sort of ... There was this news that K-Pop stans and teens on TikTok kind of merged forces to reserve an overwhelming amount of tickets for a Trump rally, and it turned out to be the day of, that not a lot of people were showing up, and a lot of people from the resistance, people from the left, were really excited to see this sort of youth activism. I really think that was the first time that a lot of people came to think that, oh, these platforms and these sort of apps and communication styles can serve a political purpose. There's a lot of fascination and a lot to dissect from that. But right now, I think, this sort of mainstream narrative, although there have been writers who've come out and said to be wary of saying that one generation is politically inclined.
I do feel like people have this impression that Gen Z are really liberal or even really radical because of the period of time that we grew up in, but I do feel like that's going to be a topic of discussion probably in 2020 and beyond. I feel like 2016 was the first election I was able to vote in, but 2020, there's definitely more younger people than me who are able to vote, so I do feel like this topic is going to gain a lot of relevancy in the coming months and years.
My first perception of people talking about the power of apps and software tools that we have to play a role in the political sphere started in 2016-ish. My sense of it early on was that a lot of it was almost sort of nefarious and talking about, just like outside interference, and how are these things being manipulated to control us unsuspecting people, or whatever. It's interesting to hear your take on the Gen Z lens of, it sounds like maybe it can be a positive thing of, oh, there are people who understand how to use this in interesting ways that maybe we don't understand, which is similarly still just like fetishizing, I guess, but maybe has a more positive spin on it.
Right. I do feel like it is a double edged sword, because people are now thinking more critically about how tech platforms are being used. For Gen Z, a lot of us, kind of, are digital natives, depending on how young you are. You might have always been acquainted with the internet or have always had a smartphone, even when you were like, I don't know, 10, 11 or 12. I personally did not have a smartphone until I think I was 14, but still, that's, for a lot of older people, this technology is relatively new. I think we're all discovering the potential of it. That's where it's a little concerning and a little like, we don't know what the unknown is going to be like. I do feel like Gen Z is on the horizon of pushing the boundaries of what can be done with being online, through youth activism, organizing groups using tools like Google docs, or Google sheets to organize information and make it more accessible for other people.
We definitely saw a lot of that around the Black Lives Matter protests with a lot of people sharing information. But I do feel like a lot of these tactics and skills were also adapted from the early users of the internet, from Gen Xers and Millennials who've been on these possibly older platforms, and platforms that have moved forward before Gen Z. So, I do feel like it's important to think of that, not in a vacuum, but also around technology developing as a whole.
It's like the behavior is the same. It's just the tools themselves are changing over time.
Right. Exactly. I feel like, every couple of years, platforms gain relevancy and then they disappear. I know around the early 2010s, Tumblr was a really big thing. It wasn't until 2016 when people started scrutinizing, I think, 4chan and Reddit really deeply, but those platforms have always existed. It's just how much we pay attention to them, I guess has shifted.
Related to that. You talk about how the news coverage of Gen Z seems pretty overall positive at the moment, borderline this fetishizing sort of thing. You shared some theories and a recent issue about how that relates to how Millennials were treated in the media. I have these strong memories of being a millennial when there are these endless, strange headlines about like, look at all these crazy things that Millennials do. From that, I had just assumed like, oh, it's because I'm the youngest generation at the time, and there's this tendency for everyone to make whatever the youngest participating generation is to look like this exotic creature. But it sounded like you were speculating that this might not be the case, and the tendency to look at Millennials the way we did and look at Gen Z the way we did is this newer thing. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, so what's interesting was, I feel like Millennials were the first group that this generational theory was really adapted in the press. I really felt like Gen Xers had that treatment, but with Millennials being on social media, you could consume a lot more media coverage and see a lot of commentary about millennial culture than I think Gen Xers did. Gen Xers usually had a cover story and time or Newsweek. People didn't have to associate with that label, but on social media, you're confronted with millennial bashing a lot more frequently. I do feel like that has led Millennials, especially who are the younger culture writers, who are analyzing internet trends and reporting on the younger generations like teenagers and adolescents, I do feel like there's a sense there that they want to portray as accurately and to do it well and to not undergo the same experience that they did from older writers who might not really understand them or social media or their habits, necessarily.
I do find it interesting that it's sort of like a balancing field, and no generation is a monolith. When you're writing about this, it's quite easy to assume that a group of people operate or feel a certain way. I think my theory in the latest newsletter was that we shouldn't always assume that these people hold these views just because that's the dominant narrative of it. We should think deeper about how people born during this period of time could be very different from one another.
I wonder whether it might, itself, turn into this genre of journalism or coverage. I don't know what you would call it, but just like generation-centric journalism. Or does that fit into some other broader category of covering culture or events or something? Is it going to develop into its own genre and carry some of these risks with it?
I feel like it has always been sort of a trope or a genre for cultural writers. If you look back in the 2000s and 2010s, The Atlantic also did a lot of pieces like that, analyzing the Millennials. Now, sort of the same thing is happening at Gen Z, but there's just a lot more coverage around internet culture, and that's particularly where a lot of young people are and a lot of what they're doing. I feel like that coverage has already led to the mindset that when you think of Gen Z or a young person, you automatically think about certain things. For example, TikTok is a really big one that has happened over the past, I think, since 2018 and onward. I find that really fascinating. I do feel like, whenever we do a culture story, you do have to think about the types of people you're reporting on. Gen Z happens to be a default characterization in the same way that someone's race or someone's location or demographic. That becomes in of itself a categorization.
What are some of the nuances that you think are being missed about, if Gen Z is not this monolithic concept, what are some of the sub-categories that you would break it down into?
Yeah, I do think Charlie Warzel in his New York Times opinion piece that I cited in my last newsletter, he had a really great piece called, Gen Z is Not Saving Us, and he kind of summarized a lot of what I was thinking, that there is, despite this very loud ... there's a lot of loud liberal voices happening among young activists, and that's really promising to see. But I do believe that there's sort of this undercurrent of people who might not share these views and they're still being socialized and politicized online. I also want to mention that there's been more specific ... I guess there's more inclusion in the coverage that I've seen about Gen Z. There's more coverage of queer teens, and there's a lot more coverage of black and brown teens from solely their perspective. I felt like Millennials didn't necessarily have a lot of that coverage and it was still very much new.
In doing my research for that newsletter, I researched when was the first article about black Twitter, and there was one in 2010. Their approach to it was just so insular that it sort of shocked me at the rate at which writing has progressed and our reporting and how we think about these niche spaces that the reporter is only looking into, and they're not treating it as a foreign space, but they're trying to become more a part of it. I do think a lot of cultural reporters have done that really well. I would say my colleague at Vox, Rebecca Jennings, does great work, and Taylor Lorenz at the New York Times. She's very well known for her TikTok stories and her focus on teens specifically. I do feel like there are a lot of culture writers sort of pushing the boundaries and narratives of how we should think about this generation, which is honestly, a great thing.
I guess I hadn't really thought about that before, but yeah, when I think about classic millennial type coverage, it's like the avocado toast headline or something, which is a very homogenizing way to look at Millennials. It seems weird and old-fashioned now to even think about compared to the way that you see Gen Z being covered, which feels more like this collection of strange little communities and villages or something like that. Yeah, I'm wondering how much of the conversation about Gen Z is being driven by what's being written in traditional journalistic outlets versus independent content creators. Since you've kind of touched on the Gen X time or Newsweek coverage, all the way down to Gen Z coverage just being a lot more driven by what's happening on TikTok and millennial bashing and things like that. Where do you see the center of the conversation happening and where is that narrative being driven?
I really do see it happening a lot on TikTok right now. If you want to know what young people were thinking, that's the first place that a lot of people think to go. I do think that's a good thing, but also a bad thing, because I know there's plenty of people, there's plenty of young people who don't have certain social media as who ... Everyone has their own habits and tendencies, and it's not entirely accurate just to have a lens into this generation through this one specific platform. This platform, by the way, you can't really search for things. It's sort of, if you've been on TikTok, the for you page is curated for you, and depending on what you liked and what you see, you can go into these subcultures on TikTok, but then again, it's also really difficult to control.
I do think it's great that TikTok is being understood more widely, being analyzed more like a cultural artifact at this time, but I do think that if all our analyses are drawn from that one specific platform, that's not an accurate representation of what everyone is thinking. I think over the past decade, a lot of what people talk about in terms of campus culture wars, in terms of Millennials, and now with Gen Z, has really sort of been a reflection of larger society. Although, you do have to keep in mind that what's happening at Harvard and Yale isn't necessarily what's happening at state schools. Only a very specific percentage of young people go to those very elite schools that get more press coverage. I do try to figure out different ways to be in touch with the culture of my peers. But it's definitely challenging and it requires you to think in multiple places at once.
It makes me think about how the extreme focus on TikTok right now as sort of representative of Gen Z, just reminds me of being a millennial and feeling that way about early Facebook, where it’s like, this is some strange platform that none of us have seen before, and it's what all the young kids are using. Are there any parallels between how Facebook played a role for the rise of a millennial generation versus how TikTok is playing a role in Gen Z?
Yeah, that's a good question. I've thought about it. I'm not entirely sure, because I do feel like it's fascinating now that we look back on it, and Facebook is now Boomers only, or that's what people jokingly say it is. I'm not entirely sure because I do feel like, for TikTok, they're elevating certain profiles and certain young people to fame in a way that Facebook has never done, unless you count Mark Zuckerberg or the Tech Bros that kind of came out of this wave of new technological apps and platforms. But I really do think that TikTok's role in this space in creating, I wouldn't necessarily say role models, but they are sort of representative figures when it comes to the public consciousness, because ... let's drop some names like Charli D'Amelio, so many people think of her now as the face of TikTok and the face of young people. She was even in a Super Bowl commercial.
I don't think with Facebook, sure there is Mark Zuckerberg, but there was really no one that, that platform catapulted to fame in that way, and so I don't think they're necessarily comparable. But it's really interesting to see the parallels of Millennials had Facebook, and now Gen Z has this very new, very much unknown app, TikTok.
Yeah. It felt like we didn't really have that same sort of creator celebrity culture in whenever, 2005-ish when Facebook started becoming a thing. There were fewer faces of Millennials back then, than you can imagine now for Gen Z. You had this experience of writing about a topic that you're also personally experiencing, which is probably true for a lot of newsletter writers, but it feels especially salient here, just because you didn't exactly choose to be Gen Z. It's something that you are. I think this is something a lot of writers struggle with, which is like, how do you balance analyzing the world through your own personal perspective or things that your friends say versus observing and synthesizing what you're seeing in the broader world? When you're writing about this stuff, how much are you weighing your own personal experience versus what you're trying to sort of analyze?
Yeah, so it's interesting, because top of mind, sometimes I realized in my first take on something might not be the representative take of everyone else. So, I always try to be very clear in my analysis, and I do feel like I'm not reporting out this newsletter, and it's more sort of conglomeration of thoughts and also reporting done from other spaces that I link to. But it is something I constantly think about because I do feel like generational politics cannot be an identity. It is just a lens through which I view the world and I think about how I was socialized and the major political events that I remember. I try to apply that to the way people younger than me, people in my generation think about the world. I guess a good example of thinking about this is like a lot of politics, prior to 2015, I pretty much have no knowledge of. I only can read that historically.
It's funny if you would talk about 2008 or like the Bush era as historic. That's something I have to read and research about. Thinking forward on how I should view certain events and things, I do feel like there is a tendency for Gen Z to want more, to be more radical. A lot of people have said that like, you haven't really experienced what it was like before. I do think having that sort of amnesia could be beneficial, but also could be harmful, because I do think that whatever analysis of the world should always come from a historical standpoint, because more often than not, people are people, and tend to repeat and do the same things over and over again.
I've thought about this period of time in relation to the 1960s and the '70s, really trying to read more about that period and how people interacted and what people wanted to do, specifically during that culture war period, because I do feel like we're approaching that right now as well.
Yeah. It's like you said like having ... I mean, the trade off is like you do have this much deeper knowledge of something that you can either really only remember one or the other, which is sort of an interesting thing about these temporarily based topics is, if you remember the '60s really, really well, then you aren't going to understand what's happening today as well. It feels like the contribution you can make is having this deeper knowledge of what is happening now and then just being thoughtful and doing your best to start drawing those parallels to other things that other people might understand and drawing the connections, but it's impossible to do all those things together. Let's talk a little bit about your newsletter itself. You're a journalist by trade and you write for Vox as your day job. Why did you start this newsletter in the first place and how did you settle upon the topic of covering Gen Z?
Yeah, I started this newsletter, shockingly, it's been longer than a year now, but in around February and March, 2019. At the start of 2019, I knew I wanted to take on a writing project because the rest of that year, I had internships lined up, but I was writing for a higher ed trade publication at the time, and then my next internship lined up was at the Washington Post writing about culture. I felt like that really didn't give me space to grow on a certain beat or anything. I just, honestly, wanted to blog, and I came to the idea of writing about Gen Z because I've noticed a sort of like spike in generational discourse. This wasn't when people were writing about it specifically as much, but there was just sort of like, oh, Zoomers are doing this.
There was a lot of Millennials/older confusion about how Gen Z communicated or what we found funny. My newsletter had a lot of iterations. It's sort of grown in voice, and I also think in terms of how I envision it to be. My last newsletter was an essay. One of my very first newsletters are just what I would say brief summaries of news stories. I really do think I'm expanding on that as I grow as a person and as the generation develops and cultural events happen around us. But yeah, short answer, I created this last year, just wanting to share more about what it's like being a young person, because it seems being young is really in, which is weird to me, but I guess it's always been the case.
You mentioned you just want to start blogging. Sounds like it is both a blog and a newsletter. Did you consider just setting up a typical blog and why did you end up going with an email newsletter?
Yeah. I actually felt like Substack was just about to explode right when I heard about it. I was like, I'm not doing TinyLetter – or am I allowed to name other newsletters?
Yeah. You can say whatever you want.
Okay. I was considering several other platforms, but I was like, I really like the clean look of Substack, and I also saw there were some writers that were starting things on Substack, so I definitely saw the .substack.com a lot, and I was like, hmm, might be a good place to put it on. I really did want to have a visual collection of what I was writing about so that people would go through the archives and everything. But I felt like starting a blog would be a little too much. You have to think about the design. When you link stuff, too, it gets complicated, and this interface was very easy to use. Now, I feel like I'm being sponsored to say things, but I'm really not.
No, glad to hear it.
Yeah, it just felt easy and it didn't have to be necessarily 2,000 words per post or anything. It could be 500 words or 1,000, depending on your mood.
There's something about your format too, that really blends the essay format, especially in the more recent issues with this personal thing where you are still sharing what you're reading and watching and consuming. It's this nice mix of both this media blog posts type thing that I get to read, and then also a little bit of just what's in your brain right now. Did you think about just writing a purely personal newsletter versus having this themed focused topic? I'm just asking, because there are a lot of ... I think something a lot of Substack writers wonder about is, especially when you're doing this as a side project and just started to have an outlet, in some sense, it is this outlet for you to just write about something else, but then on the other hand, you're building an audience around this topic. Did you think about that trade off at all?
Yeah. I was thinking about it from the angle that I am virtually unknown. I have a very small writing brand compared to a lot of other people who have huge followings on Twitter. I only have around like 3000 or so, on Twitter. I felt like writing about myself would be really boring. I don't think anyone would be interested in what I'm doing, and also my life is not very interesting. I don't have any fascinating hot takes. I did feel like centering around a topic, and especially a sort of salient topic that wasn't too niche that could be expanded upon, like in culture and technology, and memes of course, because there's always a new meme on the internet. I felt like that just gave me a lot of room to latch onto whatever interested me.
My worst fear was, “oh, what if I'm not interested in writing about this topic anymore?” But thankfully, that hasn't been the case. There's always been something related to Gen Z, or someone talks about the Zoomers. There's something that requires commentary or deeper thinking about.
I like that. It seems like that's how a lot of people end up building their brands. You start with some specific topic because no one knows you anyway. You don't have anything to really rally around until there is some specific topic, but then, as you become known for this one thing, then you start expanding into other stuff, and then people come to just really appreciate the mindset behind the person that's covering this thing. That's cool to hear. How did you find your first subscribers without a huge following, and how does your list continue to grow?
I think I'm really lucky in the sense that I am sort of friends, or I'm mutual, with high profile people. When I tweeted out my first link, I actually got around 50 to 100 initial subscribers. Honestly, through the support and shares of writers with larger followings, I was able to cultivate more people who wanted to read it. And I did for a very short period of time. I was doing interviews with very well known or Gen Z'ers who were doing really cool things. That wasn't sustainable after a period of time because of my job and how much space I wanted the newsletter to take up in my life.
But that was also something I thought about in expanding the scope of who would read, because it would be also great if I had more younger readers, because a lot of my readers now are people who work in the marketing sphere, people in the media world, and so it does feel like sometimes on Twitter, the discussions around these things are cyclical and I would like to break the cycle, but I'm not entirely sure how much young people are reading email newsletters, to be completely honest.
Okay. This is good. I was actually going to ask this. I'm being a total old person right now, but I was just selfishly curious about where you think Substack fits into that Gen Z mindset, just because, I think we've noticed anecdotally, probably that a lot of our readers do skew a bit older. My theory had always just been, well, long form writing is maybe just more appreciated by an older demographic. But you're here at Substack, so yeah, what is the Gen Z breakdown on where Substack does or doesn't fit in?
Yeah. I do think that there are a lot of young people who are very tapped into the world and who really do enjoy newsletters. Throughout college, I subscribed to a lot of newspapers and newsletters, etc. I do think that, on a day-to-day consumption basis, I'm always shocked by how many people do read my stuff, which is, I guess, always a good mindset to have, but to also aim high. But I do think that a lot of what Gen Z consumes when it comes to news and stuff does happen on Instagram or on Twitter. Although I do think the original forms...I really do prize longform writing and reporting, and I really hope that that is salient forever. But yeah, I don't think that my audience is a lot of Gen Z'ers, and I'm not sure how many subscribe to Substack, although maybe I should do a poll, who knows.
Yeah, who knows. I'm curious, but it seems intuitively consistent with me, and I wonder is it just the youngest generation never really uses email a whole lot? I'm constantly getting flashbacks throughout this conversation of just my perception when I was graduating from college and people were like, "The email inbox is dead and Millennials don't use email anymore," but now I do. It happened, I don't know, later. Maybe it's also just Gen Z people reading about Gen Z is ... It's always going to be people that don't understand the topic that are really curious to understand it, more so than people that are experiencing it themselves.
I think that Gen Z wants to read about itself if it's portrayed in a very interesting or nuanced way. I do think it's always fascinating to read whatever take it is about your generation, especially if it comes from someone from a similar background, maybe even the same age. I do think though, there's more of a larger fascination from older folks who need sort of the demystifying or 101 aspect boil down. For a while, that was what I was doing, and I realized that it was attracting a lot of marketers, a lot of people who wanted things explained. I'm rethinking the direction of whether I want to appeal specifically to those folks or not. At the end of the day, I do want it to be more about cultural analysis. Probably, I think my bigger professional goals would more align with this newsletter. It's bleeding into my full-time work as well, which I'm really grateful for.
How did you settle on having a biweekly writing schedule? A very common thing we hear from people is they want to be able to write consistently and they start out trying to write every day and then flame out and can't hold that schedule anymore. What do you recommend for people that are just trying to write consistently, even if it's not super often?
Yeah. When I first started, it was actually weekly, and then it expanded to biweekly, and then, I really don't know, I think I do twice a month, or like last month, because of the world. The world has just been so much in 2020, so my schedule has been completely off, but I do think starting off weekly and requiring yourself to think deeply about the topic will give you a good sense of how much or how deep you want to go into it every time. Because over time, I realized that there's not enough Gen Z related topics to have a take on it every week, especially if the breakdown of my newsletter was two or three stories and then the memes and what I'm up to at the bottom. Over time, I think it's much better to soak it in like a sponge and hold onto it a little bit, think about how these topics are connected.
Of course, they're not always connected. My last newsletter just happened to magically, everything came together so well, but that never usually happens. So, I do feel like just thinking about it and sitting on it is really helpful, as a writer and as a thinker. Although, I do follow a few great Substacks that are weekly, and a lot of these people are getting paid for it, but I'm always very impressed by how they're able to weave together their thoughts so well every week.
Yeah. Can you share a little more just about how it's overlapped to your day job, professional life at all? I'm thinking about Delia from Deez Links, if you're familiar. She's talked about how starting a newsletter early in her career became this really great portfolio for her work and the other stuff that she wanted to do.
Yeah. I think it's really great because it demonstrates consistency and voice, because depending on whatever news outlet you're at, you might not be able to write in the way that you want to, and in a newsletter, it's entirely your own. You're able to do that. For me, professionally, what I mentioned was my coworkers knew, my editors knew that I had this newsletter and they knew that I had an interest, and they've read it before as well. Whenever I had a take that, maybe originally I would have written a Gen Yeet on it, I could write an actual story on it, which was really cool. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we were talking about the stimulus checks and how people were being sent home from college. Those became individual pieces that ran on Vox, which was great. I spent more time and was paid to spend time thinking about these things, but that's also related to my interest as well with Gen Yeet, so that complimented each other.
Yeah, I guess I always think of it as you have stuff to write about for work, and then this is the separate outlet, but it sounds almost like the side project outlet informed the professional work that you were doing.
Yeah. Not all the time, although it would be really cool to write this full-time, but it does seem daunting, because I do think analysis and reporting fall into tangential worlds, but they're both different, and I've always worried about putting on the pundit hat too often. Because I do feel like, if you permanently put on the pundit hat, there are things you're bound to miss, and if you're still very curious about the space that you're reporting on, I think this applies to whatever beat that someone's interested in. I think it's important to always be exploring and reading other people in that space who might not necessarily be the number one writer on this topic. It's always important to be curious about something, even something as familiar as being a young person.
I wonder if that parallels to what you were saying about these differences in audiences too, where it's almost, I can imagine if you're always speaking to an audience that inherently doesn't understand Gen Z and is subscribed because they want to, it becomes a little bit more performative and punditry, where you're just sort of like ... it becomes your job, inform them. Versus if you're writing a little bit more for your own audience where it's like, we're just like working out these thoughts and feels together, and it's a thing that we all have a stake in.
Yeah. I entirely agree. I feel like a lot of it is like, this is happening and I don't know whether it's good or bad. I feel like that also comes across in my newsletters. I don't really have takes, I don't really try to talk down on the person, but more of, we should look at this really fascinating or weird thing that's happening on the Internet, and wonder why it's getting so much attention. I do try to do that and I don't also try to punch down on things. I do feel like there was a lot of that happening with Millennials on their culture and such. The last thing I would want to do is do that to people who are younger than me, who are on platforms I'm not on. I was on TikTok at the start of the pandemic, and then I got off and I haven't been on again. It's always interesting to see the ebb and the flow of what I'm interested in versus what the "dominant culture" is interested in.
This is actually the issue that really caught my eye, because you said something that was just sort of, you were jaded by TikTok or over TikTok, and I was just like, damn, that's not usually a thing you hear. If I'm clicking and trying to see what are the Gen Z takes, you just assume that everyone's going to be very bullish on TikTok. I was like, oh, that's actually really refreshing that you're like, "You know what? I'm tired of this stuff." It just feels very real and honest, which I really appreciate.
Yeah, I try to be honest, and I try not to be too cynical because I do think, sometimes I feel like there are so many optimistic takes that I feel pressured to be like, oh, maybe I should be more edgy about it, or more cynical about it, but it is a delicate balancing act, and I think the publishing schedule allows me to reflect more on whether this is an immediate response to a greater cultural reaction or if it's my true feelings. The TikTok one was one I was sitting on for quite a while, but it really took the pandemic for me to be like, oh, I'm consuming so much of this content. I don't think I enjoy it as much for me to publish that.
Yeah. I really loved and appreciated that. This is probably a question that you get a lot, but is writing about Gen Z this inherently ephemeral thing? You will always be Gen Z yourself, but is there a point where maybe the demand for reading about Gen Z changes? Would you classify this as writing about Gen Z or writing about youth culture? What does it feel like? Do you agree that it is an ephemeral thing or am I missing something else?
I definitely think that it is an ephemeral thing, because every generation sort of times out of interest and there is a new generation, although I do feel like I caught it at the curve where it's heading upwards right now, and clearly, so many things are still happening because...youth culture. I don't, to be honest, I can't think off the top of my mind when Gen Z starts and ends. I don't know when the conversation will shift, but I do think having a pulse on youth culture while I'm young is an interesting thing. I don't know how I feel about it when I'm like 35. I haven't really thought deeply about the future of that yet, but I do think there is a period of time, very certain key social and political events that define every generation, and I hope to be around for the one that defines Gen Z.
I think it's happening right now. There might be more, who knows? But I do think, for Millennials, that was the 2008 economic crash. That was a really big cultural parameter. I do think about that when I'm thinking about what are my goals with this in general.
Yeah. I think there's value in capturing a really historic moment in time or a period that is not super well understood when it's changing fast. I was just thinking as I asked the question, I was like, well, there are a lot of things that are ephemeral, like covering a war or covering any sort of current events, but they serve as, I think, especially capturing in these longform bodies of work like you are, it serves as this sort of capsule on this thing that we can return to, to understand a time, which is really important. Just to wrap up, can you tell us just a little bit about what do you think other people really misunderstand about Gen Z, and also what do you think people get right. What are some of the emerging Gen Z themes that you think are going to define our present and future culture?
Yeah. Definitely. I want to start off with what they got right, because I do feel like coverage around the generation has been so much better, so much more diverse and inclusive than what we've seen before. I do think the tech savvy element is really important and that a lot of people my age are interested in organizing, are interested in the political process and really want to make their voice heard. A lot of us care about inclusion: using pronouns, being accepting to people from all backgrounds. I think that general, “the kids are good, the kids will be alright,” that sort of sentiment has existed for the past year or so, I've seen a lot of that happening. I do think though that it's always important to be skeptical of how these current events can socialize certain people.
You always have to think, the Millennials, there were a lot of people of color who weren't represented in that discussion about millennial culture. When we think about political culture in terms of Gen Z, you also have to think, what sort of voices am I not hearing? Is it just because they don't exist or is it because I'm not seeking them out? I do think that's a good thing to reflect on as a reporter and someone just interested in culture at large, that there are a lot of blind spots and you have to search to make sure that those blind spots are revealed. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I do think that there are more conservative-leaning people. People can organize for the right-wing as much as they can organize for the left-wing.
I do feel like there is an anti-tech sentiment. I do have a significant number ... I guess not significant, I have like five or six friends who are off certain social media platforms that really surprise me. I do think there is a desire to disconnect that hasn’t been talked about as much. Although it's more difficult, it's easier said than done.