Born between 1998 and 2016, this new age group of Gen Z’ers has dealt their cards through a tweet that just went viral.
It contained a puzzle a teacher in Albany, Calif. named Bret Turner posed to his first-grade students, younger Gen Z’ers. And because of it, many surmise that Gen Z’ers will exceed millennials in many ways — at least in terms of despondency. Deep, right?
Here’s how the in-class interchange went down, according to Turner.
It began with the riddle itself: “I am the beginning of everything, the end of everywhere. I’m the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space. What am I?”
The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the class that I didn’t want to tell them that actually the answer is the letter e, which just seemed so banal in the moment pic.twitter.com/7sYFxHNcZk
— Bret Turner (@bretjturner) January 2, 2018
The response Turner got from one of his students was rather profound, albeit morbid.
Before I finally revealed the "correct" answer to the riddle, to a largely unimpressed audience, I fielded other guesses that continued along a similarly existential vein. There was "NOT everything," "all stuff," "the end," and maybe my favorite, "nothingthing."
— Bret Turner (@bretjturner) January 3, 2018
Turner wrote, “The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the class that I didn’t want to tell them that actually the answer is the letter e, which just seemed so banal in the moment.”
Gen Z are all existential nihilists aren't they.
— IntractableFallyn (@FallynMuses) January 3, 2018
Children say the darndest things, right? “Death” as an answer seems peculiar for first-grade Gen Z children to offer, as many Twitter users found.
"E" is also for existentialism
— Bobbie Bees (@BobbieBees) January 3, 2018
"I am become Death, destroyer of worlds", said Robert Oppenheimer quoting a Hindu scripture after a successful test of The A Bomb. These kids are wiser than we imagine.
— Tari Diagonal (@diagenesy) January 4, 2018
Is this just the undertaking of a time-honored, age-old philosophical exercise by impressionable youth? Possibly. Or could it be a shift in the mental capacities of Gen Z’ers in relation to larger world changes?
Aged 18-34 in 2016, millennials long have born the brunt of our preceding generations, Generation X and Baby Boomers. We are the purported “entitled,” money-less generation, clinging to our avocado toasts. But just as our generation, a total of 79.8 million in 2016, begins to surpass that of the Baby Boomer generation at 74.1 million, the coming-of-age of Gen Z’ers demonstrates that millennials are also beginning to take our exit from history.
These generational groups are each “defined by their distinctive patterns of media use, levels of multitasking, and preferred methods of communication,” according to Dr. Larry Rosen at Nieman Reports. But technology notwithstanding, what will come to define Gen Z’ers will be a lot less clear.
We are no longer the only age group troubled by the intractable problems of the world, hardly the only ones caught up in existential dilemmas brought about by low prospects of employment, a bad economy and endless socio-political crises.
Whatever the case, the post-millennial generation, Gen Z, is here. And in their adulthood, they will likely mystify in the years to come.
Have something to add to this story? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.
Header image: Getty Images