Side Note

The “Gen Z is destroying everything” takes are coming

Judging from years of hyperbolic trend pieces, millennials have successfully destroyed napkins, bar soap, the European Union, and pretty much everything else this world holds dear. But after years of clandestine training, Gen Z is finally picking up where millennials left off. Defined by Pew as anyone born after 1997, the post-Millennial generation grew up on cell phones and social media. And with its up to $100 billion in spending power, a sum large enough to sway the market, it’s apparently plotting the demise of our most cherished brands.



On Tuesday, Business Insider published a piece lamenting the impending extinction of Facebook, with only 9 percent of teens listing it as their preferred social media, and warning that cable, Ralph Lauren, crocs, and “anything related to paper” were also on the verge of becoming casualties in the age of the Gen Z consumer. (Its original title was “Gen Z is killing Facebook, and eight more industries could be next,” but after people complained, the headline mysteriously softened).

The story is one of a number of articles in recent weeks expressing panic over Gen Z upending the economy. The agricultural blog AgWeb heralded the demise of — for some reason — meat cases. The Wall Street Journal worried that Gen Z was too “elusive” and unpredictable for economists to understand, while Footwear News expressed fears that the stronger value young people place on privacy will upset retail norms around tracking customers. The website Foodable summed up the general atmosphere of concern: “Millennials are not the problem you think they are. [...] You’re going to need to shift gears for the generation coming up quickly right behind them...Generation Z.”

As someone at the upper end of the Gen Z bracket, I’m used to seeing this trope play out with millennials. The idea that young people are destroying industries is part of a larger tendency for older generations to dismiss any social change as inherently negative. Cultural artifacts no one has thought twice about, like meat cases, become essential traditions under siege as soon as young people move away from them.