Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Young life: I’m learning to be less of a doomer

My generation is known for being nihilistic. I’m trying to become more hopeful 
March 14, 2024

“Generation doomer” is one of the less favourable labels given to gen Z. But, unlike the (patronising and overused) term “snowflake”, I can understand this one.

My worldview is quite cynical. It’s obvious in the way I write and in the way I respond callously to grown-ups who ask me about my future. I’ve been told I’m too young to be so jaded—the world ought to be my oyster. Instead, the world feels like a clam and, no matter how many times I bash it against a rock, it won’t relinquish the pearly goodness within.

I recently read an article (OK, watched a TikTok) in which someone explained how existentialism has become gen Z’s alternative to religion.

With social media producing fresh micro-trends and subcultures every single day, our generation lacks a collective culture. We don’t all tune in to the same TV shows; we stream whatever we like via Netflix or iPlayer. There are no “punks”or “hippies”—the subcultures we do have are nicher than these categories. They include “coquette-core”, “eclectic grandad-core” and various other “cores” which each signify their own extremely unique aesthetic. The algorithm pigeonholes us into small digital communities, creating the most divided generation there has ever been.

I am not a religious person. Like much of my generation, I was raised by atheist gen X parents. Very few of my peers attended church beyond the visits mandated by my Church of England primary school. The closest I’ve come to a “religious experience” is belting out “He’s got the whole wide world in his hands” in our morning assemblies. 

If we don’t believe in God, what do we believe in?

Granted, I do have the odd friend who identifies as religious and believes in a God. I envy them, a little bit. Places of worship offer a sense of community and, what’s more, believing in a greater order of the universe provides purpose and a clear set of values to live by.

The challenge, now, for many young people is figuring out why we’re here, where we’re going and what we’re about

If we don’t believe in God, what do we believe in? If we’re not working towards some higher purpose, what on earth are we doing here?

We can begin by believing in a better world. We must depart from existential nihilism and embrace hope if we are to move forward. 

I’ve become familiar with “hope-based messaging” at my new job, working in marketing for a climate activism app. Having had no formal experience in the activist space, I have been reading up on how best to talk about climate change in a way that encourages action. Currently, most of the media we consume around the climate crisis invokes terror. We doom-scroll through wildfires, floods and famine—all of which is sandwiched jarringly between theories about Kate Middleton’s whereabouts and comically dystopian images from Glasgow’s immersive Willy Wonka experience. 

At best we’re utterly desensitised to the climate crisis; at worst we’re terrified by it. Either way, the majority of us are paralysed. I remember impassively viewing videos of forest fires raging across Australia, the scale of the disaster barely registering in my brain. We scroll and scroll and scroll, spending only a couple of seconds on footage that, for those living it, will fundamentally change the rest of their lives.  

But the hard truth is that people don’t want problems. Problems require our energy and our attention—both increasingly scarce commodities. Many of us guiltily turn away.

What if, instead of problems, we offered up solutions? Here there is another hard truth: we do have the solutions—we just need to convince the likes of Jeff Bezos to fucking implement them. Since realising that we do have the solutions—and beginning to fixate on that as opposed to the problem—I’ve become somewhat of an optimist.

If you want gen Z to stop being such “doomers”, start offering them solutions. Give us the tools necessary (be that knowledge or economic power) to fix the world and we will do it. Someone just needs to help us make a start.