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Gen Z: Where will they take our future?

As we celebrate Singapore’s 55 years of independence and look back at the nation’s many milestones and accomplishments, it is equally important for us to cast an eye towards the future of the country. And what better way to get a glimpse into the future than by speaking to those who hold it in their hand. Generation Z.

Also known as the “Digital Natives” or the “Internet Generation”, they were born between 1996-2010[1], with some already entering the workforce. This is the generation brought up on technology, social media, and unprecedented access to information.

To get to know them a little better, here are some insights from the rising generation themselves about what it means to be Gen Z in Singapore, the causes they care about, and their hopes and dreams for the next chapter of the Singapore story, one they will very much have a hand in writing[2].

How well do we know Gen Z?

“We are more outspoken about social issues, especially with social platforms and having access to information. Rather than relying on others, we tend to rely on ourselves to find information or the truth on issues that concern us.”

First and foremost, it is clearly evident that preconceived notions of the Gen Z persona are misguided. They are not only mindful of social causes, they are also proponents of change for good. And allegations heard all too often about how they are selfish, impatient and spend most of their time mindlessly scrolling through social media? Those are but, hasty generalisations.

“Regardless of one’s personal beliefs and what side they stand on, most of us are very informed and aware of the issues facing society today. People may call us the smartphone generation, but has it not given us a voice to call for change? We have developed critical-thinking and reasoning skills by engaging in social causes we are passionate about.”

In fact, they place huge importance on being politically and culturally adept, valuing authenticity and social responsibility[2]. They seek purpose-driven lives and desire social interaction as much as their predecessors. And the reason why they spend so much time in the digital sphere? All down to the fact that it is their primary medium through which to consume information, interact and communicate their point of view[3].

What causes do Gen Z care about?

“A cause I care about is going green and affecting climate change.”

The environment, and tackling climate change is a great passion and worry for Gen Z. As the planet they will eventually inherit is facing a crisis, instead of looking ahead to a world of opportunities, they find themselves looking into an uncertain future. They are witnesses to the destruction caused by both man-made and natural disasters as a result of climate change, and they have had enough.

“We have to solve the problems created by the previous generations such as global warming.”

Gen Z feel that all these stem from the governments and industries of today not doing enough to address the problem, always choosing the easy way out by prioritising short-term financial gains. To show their dissatisfaction, they are willing to put their money where their mouths are to effect change, starting with making “greener” choices, and caring more about how and where the products they consume were produced.

“Mental health awareness, racial inequality, gender discrimination, LGBTQ+ rights, healthcare for migrant workers, inclusion of individuals with special needs, climate change, poverty, animal cruelty, domestic abuse are all causes I personally care about.”

Another clear trend is the desire for equality, and championing the rights of marginalised groups in society. Be it gender, race, or sexual orientation, Gen Z believe that everyone deserves equal opportunities, no matter who they are, to simply be the best version of themselves.

How can Gen Z contribute in terms of nation-building?

As a generation wedged between liberal social views and passed-down traditional values, parallels can be drawn between the future of Singapore and Gen Z. Teetering on the edge of progress and stability, this generation could potentially have the right assets for nation building in their grip. After all, this is a generation unlike any other, one born into a world of immense technological advances and who have never lived without the Internet. This not only gives them increased connectivity with the world and what is happening around them, but a platform on which to make their mark.

“Growing up with a lot of information available makes most of us more aware of situations and issues. I guess Gen Z brings forth a new perspective that can help shape our future.”

“I think Gen Z have been heavily shaped by the circumstances we were born into - not just in Singapore but worldwide - racial wars, terrorism, sexual assault, school shootings, etc. and it has inspired us to change the world. Out of the many things Gen Z have to offer, I feel that our diversity has enabled us to embrace change much quicker than the rest of the generations.”

“Gen Z Singaporeans are more digitally-adapt and socially aware about global causes, and when given the opportunity, I'm pretty sure they can bring about a much bigger impact on these causes through digital campaigns or otherwise.”

Are Gen Z excited about their future in Singapore?

2020. A year of the pandemic, recessions, protests and elections, a year that is yet to conclude, has given Gen Z a lot to think about. As a result, Gen Z’s outlook on their future in Singapore is a mixed bag of emotions. Some believe that Singapore is on the right trajectory, on track to progressing towards being a more inclusive and socially aware society.

“Yes, because the possibilities are endless. I'm excited to see the community be more socially aware, open, understanding, and accepting of the different situations (LGBTQ+, homelessness, tattoos, equality etc.)”

Some on the other hand, feel that the stubbornness of their elders could hinder such progress.

“Not really. Most of the stands that the government takes is to ensure stability and the voices of the youths aren't really heard.”

Who has got it right? Perhaps only time will tell.

Sharing his thoughts about the future of Gen Z in Singapore as well is Associate Professor Leong Chan Hoong from the Centre of Applied Research, SUSS.

“I always look at Gen Z, and younger, to be a resilient cohort. They are not the strawberry generation we have imagined them to be. They are able to adapt, not just because they are young, but because they are used to a completely different culture where you are supposed to change and evolve with time. They are willing to work hard for whatever they believe can take them further. And given the systems we have, they are able to thrive not just in Singapore but overseas as well. My personal concern for this group is whether they are emotionally anchored to the country. So, if they are not emotionally anchored, if they have no roots and don’t feel as connected to Singapore as the Pioneer Generation, then they will not have any affinity to Singapore as a nation state. And that’s concerning because we could just have a generation of Singaporeans who may not be physically in Singapore anymore. It’s interesting to ponder what that holds for the future of the country.”


[1] Straits Times (May 2019) Singapore's 19-year-olds: Who they are, what they want

[2] Forbes (Apr 2017) How To Use Social Responsibility To Appeal To Generation Z

[3] SUSS (Nov 2019) Demystifying Millennials

Footnote:
We interviewed six people aged 19 to 24 on their thoughts about the future of Singapore.

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