Zillennials: the generation game

Are you neither Gen Z nor millennial? If you’re “too young to talk about adulting and avocado toast, too old to make a TikTok account” you might just be a zillennial. Eve Upton-Clark demystifies the micro-generation.

People born between 1995 and 2000 are neither Gen Z nor millennial. We know only pain,” wrote one Twitter user on 14th June 2020.

@hipster_shit_’s Tweet was shared over 150k times. It is clear many of the youngest millennials and oldest zoomers (Generation Z) identify with this generational nether zone. 

A reply further down the thread characterises this position as too young to talk about adulting and avocado toast, too old to make a TikTok account”.

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According to Urban Dictionary, zillennials are the last years of millennials and the first years of Generation Z with mixed traits of both generations.” A micro-generation whose cut off dates are generally agreed to be between 1993 – 1998. Caught between two rigidly defined generations, zillennials face being called a millennial by baby boomers and Gen Z by millennials.

While many flippantly regard all young-ish people as millennials, the Pew Research Center uses 1981 as the first birth year and 1996 as the cut off for this generational cohort. Defined by arguments over avocado toast, the inability to afford a house and the fetishisation of Friends, millennial culture is dragged from all sides. 

In a TikTok video watched over 464,000 times, one zoomer complains about the conflation of millennials and Gen Z, I personally don’t want to be associated with people who still think that Harry Potter is a personality trait.”

For those who fall under the label of Gen Z, they grew up in the age of the iPhone. As true digital natives, recent research has shown dramatic shifts in youth behaviours, attitudes and lifestyles for this generation – both positive and negative. Gen Z culture is most commonly defined by TikTok, Tide Pods and the burden of the climate crisis. As one Tweet states, idc what year you were born, the real millennial/​gen z divide is whether you know vines or TikToks.”

But for those late nineties babies born on the cusp, some argue for a whole micro-generational cohort of their own. Those who had both Bebo and Snapchat. Those who remember the dance to Crank That (Soulja Boy) as well as the Renegade.

In the analog-to-digital generation, the difference of a few years is unprecedented. From 2000 to 2004 was the difference between owning a Nokia 3310 and a Motorola Razr. The difference between 2005 and 2007, was owning a Sony Ericsson Walkman W800 and owning the very first iPhone. 

I’d say those who grew up with an iPad are definitely Gen Z. Most of my childhood was spent on Nintendo PictoChat and MSN Messenger,” says Beth, 23.

Whilst these digital distinctions may seem arbitrary, the lightning-speed of technological development has defined the zillennial childhood. While the oldest millennials would’ve been in their mid-20s around the release of the iPhone, the zillennial generation were the last to remember a childhood ungoverned by technology but also grew up with tech evolving around them. This digital evolution meant birthdays and Christmases were times of coveted gadget upgrades, from Walkman CD players to an MP3, or a Gameboy advance to a Nintendo DS.

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Rather than Instagram or Snapchat, the social media platforms adopted by the zillennial childhood were Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel. Despite falling right on the cusp, Ella, 23, says I identify more with being a millennial than Gen Z on the basis of how I use technology and social media. I can’t relate to the constant use of Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with friends and I really can’t get on board with the TikTok hype.”

Whilst a significant lens through which to view changing social attitudes, these generational labels often turn into an ideological stick with which to beat each other. Retorts of OK boomer” and accusations of Karen” have flooded the internet mainstream, symbolic of the collective frustration of younger generations with the current political landscape. 

The cultural generation gap has been fomenting over the last few years, with 2020 in a league of its own. Brexit, Black Lives Matter and Covid-19 are all polarising issues when it comes to generational attitudes. Almost three quarters of 17 – 24 year olds said they had voted to stay in the EU while 60 per cent of those aged 65 and over supported Brexit. Almost three-quarters of Gen Z and millennials said they view brands that support BLM protesters on social media more favourably, while only thirty-nine percent of Generation X and Baby Boomers said the same. Whilst it is boomers who are most medically at risk from Covid-19, it is millennials and Gen Z who will be hit hardest economically, with zillennials drawing the short straw and likely graduating into an economy that’s crumbling before their eyes.

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Shaped by progressive attitudes and political disillusionment, this new generation is positioned at the point where technology and politics intersect. The generation that grew up on social media are now mobilising through it, to mass effect. 

Scarlett Curtis, age 25, co-founded The Pink Protest in 2017, a collective helping young feminist activists to take action online with the slogan, The revolution will be posted on Instagram.” Similarly, 20-year-old Amika George, launched the Free Periods campaign in 2017 to end period poverty in the UK, with an Instagram following of over 17,000. Meanwhile, 24-year-old model and activist Yasmin Benoit has been campaigning for asexuality representation with the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike and an Instagram following of over 29,000.

The internet generation are making their mark both on and offline. Whilst the generations before them set the precedent for in-person demonstrations, digital activism has proven to be a powerful force for change. Coming of age in an inescapable digital environment, confronting both imminent ecological collapse and a surge in far-right populism worldwide, young people have the weight of the world on their shoulders. 

Yet, while the culture wars rage on, zillennials sit on the fence: they’re young enough to see the challenges ahead and old enough to impactfully instigate change. This hybrid generation may be holding the answers to the future of co-opting the rapid development of tech to their political advantage. Straddling the gap between 90s nostalgia and Netflix, as zillennial cultural icon Hannah Montana once said, you get the best of both worlds”.


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