Mozilla CMO Lindsey Shepard on reading gen-z essays on the internet

During last graduation season, Mozillas Pocket went along with Her Campus for The connection of the future, a writing competition for college students to reflect on what it’s like to grow up in a “hyper-online and always connected world.” While this is not a new concept for them — this generation, including our essay contest winner, Ester Omole, was born into a digital society — postponement and direct cancellation of personal exams and prom nights because of COVID-19, the latter really did “offline” adult rituals for virtual events.

As both a mother and a leader in technology, I think a lot about the impact of growing up with technology a lot – especially during the last 19 months. What would social distancing from COVID-19 look like without the Internet? Earlier this year, when I helped my mom learn to call video so she could also attend the virtual festivities of the graduation season, I was so grateful for the connection to the internet. But I still wonder, has the strangely connecting but destructive forces of the internet created a greater void for the younger generations who never lived in a world free of shining screens?

The same complicated sense of ‘loss’ around the growing dependence on being online for everything I’ve felt this year was reflected time and time again in essays from young people I read. Here are my main takeaways from this experience:

They are the IoT generation

The more conversations I have had with people at the beginning of their careers, the more nostalgic it makes me feel that the way I think about the ‘Internet of Things’ is outdated: Digital life and the opportunities and challenges it represents is not something young people are actively exploring. Being online is like breathing oxygen for them and has been constant since day one.

It’s a different perspective, and even as a CMO who often speaks on the ‘Internet of Things’, humility to move forward and manage our mission to a new and increasingly ingenious generation is something I must continually remind myself of. Yes, my generation did some good shit, but it’s important for me to take a step back and recognize that even after so many changes, the internet remains this incredibly innovative space.

Speaks in Meme

Many of us feel uncomfortable or even ‘naked’ without our mobile device in hand. While society tells us that this feeling is unhealthy, one of the most provocative essays I read radiated absolute pride in the sinister attachment their generation has to consumer technology.

My kids are 14 and 11. They were delivered right into the internet. It completely dominates their culture, and even though they are not online all the time, there is so much of how they interact with each other and how their generation relates to each other in the ‘internet of things’. They literally speak in memes – a language that is sometimes difficult for me to understand. It’s hard to blame them when the most up-to-date news information is online, most of today’s entertainment is consumed via Twitter threads and sub-Reddits, and even the food we eat is influenced by TikTok recipes and Instagram foodies. So instead of questioning the morale of today’s hyper-online culture, the better question is to ask how society can expect this generation to navigate life without carrying their phones around like another limb? That’s the reality they were born into.

“God, it’s brutal out here!”

In the words of the pop princess, the Olivia Rodrigo Internet can be a pretty tough place. The constant cycle of performance and consumption over and over again on a small, bright screen filled with hundreds of others doing exactly the same thing can be pretty numb. At the same time, the internet is a gift that connects us closely with friends, distant family members and even strangers that we would never have known about otherwise. This turbulent duality is a consequence of living in an always connected world.

There is a community of other like-minded people on the Internet. This internet culture of support and constructive criticism in micro-communities has helped young people redefine what success and happiness mean to them, and effectively break the forms and cultural norms that were passed on to them from hometowns, families and traditions. Even if our favorite people are a text, DM or Slack away – you are never really alone online – it is still possible to feel lonely and isolated.

In a speech with Esther, which confirmed this sentiment, the next generation growing up in the digital age advised to “recycle the way they consume things on the Internet, knowing that the Internet reflects and retains a lot of harmful images and problems that we see in society. “She also advises these next digital natives to” spend their time on the Internet in an uplifting way too. I’ve seen a lot of anti-anxiety infographics on Instagram that are really comforting. “

These takeaways are certainly not new, and my interpretation of these essays will not ruin the world. But maybe while reading the winning competition essay, appropriate title, ‘Reflection: embracing my undulating image’, you will be caught in a wave of nostalgia. You might see yourself in these young people and remember what it was like to sit on the road to adulthood. Technology has changed what growing up looks like, but it has not and can not make the process of finding yourself online easier.

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