Generation Discontent: Q&A with We Are Social’s Jerome Courtial

Realism over perfection and a discontent destiny

For this interview MediaCat Magazine‘s Content Editor, Andrea Buzzi, spoke to We Are Social’s Head of Strategy, Jerome, to get his thoughts on the discontent between Gen Z and millennials, and whether they really as discontented as they say.

Someone called us ‘Generation Discontent’, as in never happy with what we achieve, nostalgic, and insecure. Why is this the case?

We Are Social’s Jerome Courtial

The first ‘reason why’ to consider is that Gen Z (and millennials by extension) were born with the beginning of the internet and social media, and grew up with TikTok. It made them much more wired to constantly look for external validation. What they need is to make sure that others recognise that their lives are amazing: through likes, views, and engagement. The discontent is probably stronger with this generation because they think they have to prove to everyone what they’re doing is worthy of being talked about. They’re bombarded by the content of influencers and people having a great time, going to exclusive places, and having fantastic experiences. That creates a sensation of pressure and the feeling like they’re not doing enough, and that their life is not that amazing.

It happens to me as well; when I spend time on social media, and at the end of the day while I change my two-year-old’s nappies. I feel everyone else is having a more wonderful time. But the difference is that I’m old enough to be able to separate social media from my real life. Every generation likes to think the new generation is more discontent and pretentious than the older one. But I think this is particularly true with Gen Z and Millennials because of social media. TikTok more than Instagram, as it’s a constant source of new stimulation. Younger people experience a continuous comparison that creates discontent. Similarly with their work lives, because they feel they should be successful in no time at all. They come out of university and expect a job immediately, because that’s what they see on social media — people having success with seemingly little effort.

Is there much of a difference between Gen Z and millennials, in this instance?

There are a lot of differences. But here are a few that I think are quite interesting:

  • Time for nostalgia: Millennials are nostalgic about times they actually experienced. They were there. Gen Z, however, is nostalgic for eras they’ve never seen or experienced. They’re just looking at the past and taking inspiration from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s — a great time when everything looked perfect and different to what they lived in the past few years… Covid-19, war, less access to rich properties and so on…
  • Gen Z’ers as active consumers: Gen Z takes inspiration from the past and mixes it with today’s culture and trends. They readjust it and they’re not passive consumers (like millennials). I was looking at the Culture Next report that Spotify publishes every year, and it showed that Gen Z’ers don’t just want to be fans of the artists, they want to be part of their community. They want to be involved in their projects. They want to have access to their lives and journeys.
  • TikTok is the new Google: millennials find answers to their questions from Google. But Gen Z is now using TikTok as its search engine: every single product has so many more visual interesting inspirations and ideas than Google.

We’re impatient and don’t often believe in ourselves (thank you, impostor syndrome). How is that being played out in cultural and digital trends?

The concept of impatience started again on social media, where millennials used to see content about people showing their achievements but not the struggle that happened before. Now there are more young entrepreneurs sharing their real journey, without hiding the pain or how hard it is. We’re starting to see a lot more real content where people are not just pretending to be rich and successful.

People from Gen Z are more open to sharing the efforts and what they did to achieve success. They are the generation who looks at work as we, the older generation, used to do — going to the office, nine to five — and that thinks ‘I don’t want that life’; while they compare it to the ones they see documented on social media. That’s the generation that finds it hard not to get success overnight and is interested in working freelance and building their own things.

The result is a trend where Gen Z’ers start supporting each other through free content, and tutorials, and help each other reach their goals faster. TikTok and YouTube are giving this generation the feeling that anything is possible; because they can find all they need on those platforms. We keep calling them the ‘flaky generation, but in my experience, Gen Z’ers are hard workers. They still turn up and do the work, even if there is a lot of impatience in wanting success quicker than others.

We’re constantly showing the best version of ourselves, but is there a move towards more realism over perfection these days?

The impact on mental health is huge and is probably hitting more women than men. Using filters for looking like something or someone else used to be fun. But now we can see something that looks like the perfect version of ourselves. And it’s dangerous because you just think ‘Ok, I want to be like that’. But how? Do you buy more beauty products and have plastic surgery? A trend that’s on the rise. In France, for instance, we have a huge number of teenagers filling their lips.

However, there is also a rebellious trend where Gen Z are fighting this fiction. They refuse all kinds of makeup and filters that promote unnatural aesthetics, and they’re trying to achieve more natural beauty. At We Are Social we started a project called The Feed, an Instagram profile to track digital culture and its global trends. And the latest one actually refers to how Gen Z is ‘boycotting’ over-curated apps to promote a greater authenticity instead.

We’re becoming less angry but more lost, losing ourselves and our image. Are we destined to be discontent?

Younger generations are probably having the hardest time since World War II. They were born in a world that’s quite challenging. But the greatest impact on their discontent is due to the ‘comparison’ concept we talked about at the beginning. In my opinion, discontent arises when one needs someone else to define our success. Everyone is bombarded with people having a better reality: you scroll LinkedIn for just a few minutes and what you see is all your friends having promotions, you go on TikTok and everyone is having a great time, you open Instagram and people are spending time in amazing places for their holidays. You can’t help feeling like you’re not doing the best you can do.

People need to accept that success is more about the journey than the destination, and stop looking for validation on social media. They all must accept that this is the life they’re in, the best they can do is enjoy the moment and live on their own terms and not the social media ones. Only then can they start being happy. Brands should start to help younger generations enjoy their journey, and not show them unrealistic success. We’ll likely see more brands using more supportive language. For example, saying: ‘You can do it, but you don’t need to have success to be happy. It’s okay to be who you are, and we can help you write your own story.’ It’s not about reaching a million followers or having the most amazing job, but living life on your own terms.

Featured image: Orlando Gutierrez / Unsplash

Andrea Buzzi, Former Content & Social Media Editor at MediaCat Magazine

Andrea’s experience includes digital publishing, marketing, comms, media relations and editorial, working for companies such as Italian Publishers Association, Gruppo Mondadori and Condé Nast in Italy. She joined MediaCat Magazine at the start of 2023 after her second (and hopefully her last) move to London. In September 2023 she moved on to work for a fashion magazine.

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