Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down? Or when September 11th happened? I bet you do if you were around during these events. They were huge.
But, do you recall where you were when you heard about COVID-19? Maybe not, because it was a gradual news breaker. It began as a news story from China in December 2019, then grew month by month. I bet you do remember, however, when you had to stay home.
There was no official start to this crisis. It snuck up on us in the news. There wasn’t a day to remember like September 11th, 2001, and there is no Ground Zero to visit. Other crises draw people together and create makeshift memorials, but the coronavirus forced us into isolation. We can’t gather in groups to emote. And there is no focal point. Those who are dying are diffused all over the world, not in one place like New York City or Oklahoma City. As of today, there is uncertainty and ambiguity about how far it will go and long it will last. Very strange.
I tend to think 2020 is a year that will shape a generation. But how?
- Will it make us more safety and germ conscious?
- Will it make us averse to financial risk?
- Will it make us all stronger?
- Will it normalize isolation?
- Will it deepen the normalization of anxiety?
- Will it cause us to work better together?
- Will it nudge even more people to shop on-line and cease shopping at stores?
- Will it solidify the entrepreneurial spirit of a generation?
“People will change their habits, and some of these habits will stick,” said Susan Athey, an economics of technology professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “There’s a lot of things where people are just slowly shifting, and this will accelerate that.”
The Washington Post said, “American businesses long have shown scars of national trauma: devastating fires, for example spawned major factory regulations. World War II hastened the entrance of women into the workforce.” Microsoft executive Jared Spataro concluded, “This is an inflection point, and we’re all going to look back and realize this is where it all changed.”
But—how will it affect our youngest population?
What Is It Doing to Generation Z?
A question I’m pondering is: How will these shifts (and others) change the way this pandemic imprints the generation? In March, our team had the opportunity to get on a Google Hangout with eight students between the ages of 17 and 24. My goal was to ask them how COVID-19 was affecting them so far. Below are their responses.
1. Are you connecting with friends, even while in isolation?
Most said yes. They were definitely talking with friends even more than normal since classes can be taken on their own time. Constant topics are the coronavirus, summer internship changes, graduation ceremonies, spring break change of plans, and lots of memes.
2. Has it been tough being flexible and adapting to a new normal?
Apart from one student, the rest said adjusting was very hard. “It’s the toughest thing to go after my goals differently and to feel productive. It’s hard staying socially connected with friends. Professors’ office hours are different, and we can’t meet with them in person. Some of them are not getting back to me. Many are not good with technology.” One student said his teacher missed his first three online classes due to tech problems.
3. How has social distancing affected your anxiety levels?
Most of the students acknowledged they felt less anxious now. Their priorities and deadlines they once memorized are different. But they did share it was more stressful because teachers or roommates were not around to remind them of tasks. Most said it was hard to find a place to get work done at their parents’ houses. And they felt lots of stress about grades because of the unknown. Interaction with teachers was down, and they were alone at home instead of able to visit an instructor on campus.
4. Do you feel worried about the future?
Yes, on all counts. Stress is up about finding summer jobs, about their future career plans, and the economy when they graduate. One student said, “It felt like all my plans are out the window, for the summer and for after graduation.” But, most students feel as though life will get back to normal, even if it takes several months. One student did say, “I feel like I am going to have to start all over, once this is done.”
5. How do you believe the coronavirus will affect Generation Z?
One student said it best: “My hope is we return to normal but we learn from this pandemic. I could see it giving us a better chance to help each other; trust doctor’s advice; we need to have a strong, collective effort to combat this. We may get more sympathetic to the value of working together; this could unite our generation, like a code red, like September 11th. This could get us to work together instead of being divided. Maybe this generation will discover ‘less is more’ like our grandparents did.”