Am I a Millennial or Gen Z?
What does it mean to be part of a generation?
In late 2019, I started teaching in an Irish high school. At 24, I didn’t feel all that different from the 13-year-olds I was mentoring at first, but it soon became clear that we were very different. My references went over their heads — even to what I thought were current, mainstream films, like Marvel’s Iron Man. What threw me most, however, was how different our vocabulary was when it came to using technology.
If I say, “click the floppy disk to save,” do you know what symbol I’m talking about? These students didn’t. I quickly realized that none of these kids had ever seen a hard floppy disk IRL, let alone a floppy floppy disk.
More recently, my partner Rhys and I, who were both born in 1995, were talking about generations. It’s been popular for a while now to categorize people by when they were born — boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z — as a shorthand for a particular kind of experience. Being born in 1995, there are many ways that we feel like cuspie “zennials,” having gotten a taste of both experiences.
Or so we thought.
“I haven’t used a floppy disk either,” Rhys told me the other night when I brought up the story of my Irish students as an example of the difference between millennials and Gen Z. “Most people our age haven’t.”
I thought he was crazy. He’d never used a floppy disk? What was he doing from 1997 to 2005? His answer: using CDs. And then USB thumb drives.
That’s when I realized that even being born in the same year doesn’t guarantee you grew up in the same generation. The more we talked about it, the more we realized that while we had assumed we had the same experiences growing up — we were in the same grade, in the same regional school district — our experiences couldn’t have been more different.
At my elementary school, we saved our work on hard floppy disks. My floppy was orange and had my name written on it in Sharpie. The school computers (tower desktops that ran on Windows 95)…