What 161 iGen poems taught me about the end oof the world

Generation Z is wide awake and terrified.

Thanks to a sweet tip from a colleague, I recently had the honor of acting as a judge for a writing competition which I won’t mention for Reasons.

Being the reckless overachiever that I am, I opted to judge in the category which had the most crushingly large pool of submissions: 161 poems, written by high school seniors across Michigan.

The responsibility of judging that many works was intimidating, yes. But I volunteered for the category before I knew what was happening, I think because subconsciously I was desperately keen to gather such a large pool of insights on the upcoming iGeneration.

iGen, aka Generation Z, Generation Wii, Digital Natives, or (my personal favorite) the Zoomers, is of course the next generation after us Millennials. The exact dates roughly span people born between 1995–2012, give or take a few years on either end. The generation’s defining characteristic thus far is that they are digitally native — i.e. were born and raised in the era of the Internet and digital technology. Unlike we Millennials, who still remember a time before iPhones.

What better demographic pool is there to pull insights from than a generation’s elder poets? They’ll give me the most valuable data points of all: the extremes.

As a teacher in higher education myself, I’m always fascinated by the evolving perspective and spiritual and philosophical zeitgeist of my students. Perhaps spurred to take the next younger generation more seriously than Boomers and Xers have Millennials, I feel it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse of the next upcoming generation. What they think and feel about the world will become our reality soon. I want to know what those things are while I still have a chance to make a positive influence.

Our children are our hope for the future, and all that. You know? We Millennials are more akin to iGen than any other generation. I want to know them, and to help them if I can.

Also, my daughters are young iGens who are staring down the barrel of puberty, and I deal with adversity by doing my research.

Anyway. I made it through all 161 poems, and…yes. Holy shit do I have insights.

For the sake of brevity, I’ve winnowed them into these 5 categories.

I’d like to note first, however, that across the board I was impressed with the level of self-awareness demonstrated, and their level of awareness of the world around them.

These kids can not only tell you how they feel, but can cite their condition’s reference code in the DSM-V and describe to you the underlying source of their trauma.

Whatever conclusion people make about iGen, no one can refute that this generation is the “woke-est” generation. They’re wide awake. And they’re not keen on what’s going on.

1) Climate despair-induced nihilism

By far the most common theme I encountered is what I can best describe as a sense of climate despiar-induced nihilism towards modern human civilization. In such a small pool as 161, when you encounter a theme more than once or twice, you pay attention. But I didn’t need to make data spreadsheets to observe that there were only a handful of works which didn’t convey the underlying assumption that the world as we know it is about to end.

It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s not. Nearly every piece I read conveyed a given assumption that our current civilization is in its final throes or has already ended, in one capacity or another.

The majority of these either directly cited environmental disaster as the cause, or implied it by citing the sorry state of our natural world.

The sorry state of our natural world seemed, on the aggregate, to stand as both a literal critique and a metaphor for the sorry state of society’s mental and emotional well being.

“Climate despair” has recently been the subject of discussion in the media, as a specific source of mental unhealth globally — following a similar trend alongside the workplace syndrome “burnout”, which has been compared by clinicians in its effect to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“A continued ecological crisis without an active solution focus from the adult world and decision makers poses a great risk that an increasing number of young people are affected by anxiety and depression,”

reads an open letter to the Swedish government written by a group of Swedish psychologists and psychotherapists sent in spring of 2019, according to Vice.

I would say that my experience judging these 161 works confirms that sentiment quite strongly. And I’d say that there’s a lot of fear for the future of humanity — and anger at the generations before which put the machines of industry in motion.

[Read the rest of this story at the @creativeonion network.]

poet, educator, hillbilly gnostic druid. indie publisher and creator of COSGRRRL magazine, teaching business @KCADofFSU.

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