Scholars and academics have explored the unique characteristics, values, and perspectives associated with different generational cohorts for thousands of years. By doing so, they have deepened our understanding of how generational differences can shape society and influence its trajectory over time . Before delving into the differences between age brackets, it is essential to define the word “generation”. In essence, a generation refers to a group of individuals who were born around the same time and grew up in similar surroundings. These individuals within the same birth cohort tend to display similar traits, values, and preferences throughout their lifetime.
The study of differences between and among generations has been known since the times of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato . In the 19th century, Giuseppe Ferrari, who wrote Teoria dei Periodi Politici, observed that every 30 years a new set of leaders take over the government, bringing new ideas and perspectives that differ from their predecessors . One of the causes of sociological change is human biology. Just as the cells in our bodies constantly change over time, so too do a society’s norms and ideologies . The 19th-century French philosopher August Comte observed that the evolution of society is driven by the process of generational turnover. Each successive generation introduces new ideas, practices, and values and thus play a vital role in shaping the culture .
In the 20th century, prominent Hungarian intellectual Karl Mannheim advanced the theory that each generation learns from the traditions and norms of the society and ancestors that preceded them. In a series of essays, Mannheim observed that as new generations mature and become more involved in society, they begin to develop unique perspectives, ideas, values, and behaviors, which they carry with them through their lifetime . As older generations die off, these new ideas and practices shape a new society. More recently, American political scientist Ronald Inglehart’s work in the 1970s provided an example of how generational differences manifest in society. Inglehart found that in contrast to the pre-World War II generation in Western Europe, who placed great importance on security and political order, the post-war generation tended to prioritize self-expression and freedom. This shift in attitude was eventually reflected in broader societal changes that liberalized Western democracies .
Today, one in five Americans belong to the cohort known as Generation Z, Gen Z, Zoomers, iGeneration, centennials, post-millennials, or Homelanders. This demographic, the largest in the world today , usually describes anyone born between 1997 and 2012, although precise birth year is not as important as other socio-economic factors in defining the group . Gen Z are characterized as being digitally savvy, racially diverse, and socially aware. According to the global web index, Gen Z spends more time on social media than “millennials” — those born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s . Furthermore, Gen Z is particularly drawn to visual content over written content as social media encourages them to share their perspectives, and pictures and video translate better to a wider audience. As more Gen Zers come of voting age, they will have more electoral influence , and they will most likely use the digital space to communicate their opinions on politics, including foreign policy. This article seeks to understand the perspective of Gen Z regarding foreign policy, and specifically their attitudes toward global issues.
The Digital Dilemma: The Effects of Tech on Gen Z
Gen Z has witnessed the emergence of tremendous technological change, which has impacted society. The emergence of social media platforms such as Facebook and Friendster in the early 2000s represented the beginning of an important shift in society. They have helped individuals connect regardless of their religion and cultural or geographical location, and allowed members of Gen Z to share their thoughts and ideas with a global audience. There remains, however, a lack of debate about the benefits and drawbacks of social media on a societal scale.
Technology allows people to communicate more quickly in case of accidents or disaster, and can be utilized to raise awareness of social issues. In Abu Dhabi, for example, the police department uses Instagram to promote safe driving practices . Yet, technology also has a dark side. Powerful people such as businessmen and politicians can use social media to shape public opinion, and recently concerns have been raised about the negative impact of social media on individuals . The addictive nature of digital media has led to an increase in inactivity, which brings with it a variety of health concerns such as obesity. The bombardment of imagery on minds that are not yet fully developed has also led to psychological issues such as anxiety and depression .
Global Politics and the “Solidarity Generation”
Those born between 1997 and 2012 have witnessed a number of global events such as the emergence of the blockchain market and the rise of Artificial Intelligence. The reaction to the global Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the global economy, which had a direct impact on Gen Z. Many experienced lay-offs, wage cuts, and other socio-economic challenges . As a result of their experiences, members of Gen Z are likely to bring a new perspective to the role of government in addressing both domestic and global issues. Social justice and climate change are expected to be particular focuses of Gen Z, who have been characterized as a “solidarity generation” because of their inclination to join with like-minded people who share their values and ideals . A 2017 global study of 20 nations and a 2021 study that surveyed 45 countries showed that climate change was the most significant issue of concern among the younger generation .
One of the possible reasons for Gen Z’s focus on climate change and human rights rather than the global power competition, is that the United States has reigned as the dominant global player, with only China recently posing any kind of threat to their hegemony. Almost half of Gen Z prioritize climate change as a major threat compared to only 12% who believe countering China is a major concern . A significant proportion of this cohort expressed a preference for a cooperative approach to China rather than embracing a new Cold War paradigm. Moreover, seven in 10 Zoomers believe that the U.S.’s military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan were ill-advised and have had negative repercussions, as have the country’s policies regarding the Syrian civil war and Iran. The prevailing sentiment among Gen Z, who are characterized by extensive global connectivity, demonstrates a propensity for embracing collaborative foreign policies instead of aligning themselves with specific major political actors .
Some policy makers might stereotype Gen Z as being distracted by the digital world and therefore less concerned about national security issues; however, this cohort exhibits a level of voting engagement approximately 20% higher than that shown by the previous generation, according to the Census Burea . The Brookings Institution, a liberal American think tank, reached a similar conclusion about Gen Z’s level of political engagement after one of their seminars featuring expert policy makers discovered that 50% of the cohort they surveyed believed an increase in the national debt over the next three years could be a major problem in the future .
In the United Kingdom, some of Gen Z’s formative years were spent during the Labour Party’s 13-year reign, from Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 1997  to Gordon Brown’s historic 91-seat loss that led to his resignation in 2010 . It can be argued that these political events have influenced this cohort’s political views and that — especially in the aftermath of Brexit — many have a tendency to align themselves more closely with the Labor Party. They believe that social welfare should be prioritized, and that the government’s role is to redistribute wealth, even if that means an increase in taxes .
In the Middle East, the so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011 had a profound impact on the political outlook of Gen Z. After a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire in protest of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s policies, widespread protests erupted that forced Ben Ali to resign on January 14, 2011. Eleven years later, a survey found that individuals from the Zoomer cohort, who matured in the aftermath of the turmoil, tend to perceive the era of Ben Ali as being relatively tranquil and prosperous. Conversely, the millennial generation, who were old enough to actually participate in the revolution, tends to believe the opposite .
Given their large demographic representation, Gen Z is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of government and individual rights. Many of these individuals have not yet fully matured in the realms of politics and foreign affairs, making it premature to pass definitive judgments on their beliefs and actions, but a few trends are already beginning to emerge.
Naturally, the interests of each cohort within this generation are influenced by their specific domestic needs. However, Gen Z tends to be driven by shared global values and thus issues such as climate change remain high on their agenda. The experiences of Gen Z, particularly their encounters with the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges of low employment, have exerted a profound impact on their perspectives. Consequently, it is highly likely that they will want to focus on strengthening social affairs.
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 In 2010, the Labor Party leader Gordon Brown stepped down, which paved the way for the Conservatives to return to power. See Booth, Robert. Gordon Brown Resigns // The Guardian. May 11, 2010. URL: http://bitly.ws/CTvC
Key words: Modern Technology, Global Security