A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival weekend to attend some debates. I’ve got a blog post in the pipeline for more on that, but while I was there I met one of the speakers in a debate about the future of post-millennials (teens like me!). Her name was Chloe Combi, and she had written a book on the subject.
I approached her afterwards, and asked if I could interview her for this blog via email. She has sent me some very interesting replies, and I would like to post some of the insights I gained for everyone to read!
But first; a quick review of her book. It’s called Generation Z: Their voices, their lives.
It’s about the teenagers of today and is written as a series of verbatim monologues; categorised into chapters. This format ensured it was an incredible book to read; I immediately felt a connection with each speaker as they told their story. Everything that was important shined through (their honest opinions and thoughts), while all the needless commentary was cut (such as how they spoke, how they behaved, what they looked like etc.).
I have to say, I loved it. In my last post, I mentioned how if someone feels the same way as you, their experiences are almost irrelevant; and this held true completely. No matter who was speaking, I felt I had something in common with them, even if their life was completely different to mine. As I told Chloe Combi, it felt like I was talking to both old friends and new every sentence of the book!
I thought my reaction in that aspect interesting. Very often, first impressions can be misleading (I wrote about it in my first blog post). Yet, as Generation Z clearly demonstrated, if you give someone a chance to talk about themselves, you’ll always find common ground and a life way more interesting than you may first expect.
So in conclusion, I encourage everyone reading this to buy the book. I read it as a comment not just on teenagers, not just on their angst, their modern pressures and their respective differences, but as a comment on life itself, on how it can be extreme and mundane and desperately sad and wonderful and beautiful and ugly all at the same time!
Without further ado, here is my interview with Chloe Combi:
The sheer diversity of voices in your book was amazing. Often there were massive differences between all the interviewees’ opinions, outlooks, backgrounds and lifestyles, and at times it was very sobering. It made me wonder whether the category of Generation Z really holds any meaning at all. Did you have any idea of what form the book was going to take before you started interviewing?
I wanted to write both about very normal teenage experience – school, squabbles, parents, periods, anxieties, crushes etc. but also some more extreme ones. Life isn’t a thing of extremes or always in the middle either. If you are lucky, you might get through your teenage years without serious drama, but lots don’t and I wanted readers to feel like both were OK. I think ‘normal’ relatively privileged teenagers get the biggest voice – they write columns and blogs and do political work and have school success etc. and its often the disenfranchised that get heard the least, so it seemed important to hear them too. Often, I suppose they were the ones that shone the most, and I think it’s a shame we don’t hear more from them.
I write short stories from the viewpoint of a teenager, just like me, and a few times I’ve had feedback that my character is ‘too articulate for a fifteen year old girl’. Yet reading your book, I felt like all the teens you interviewed were far more articulate than one would expect. Were there any times when you were surprised at Generation Z when a preconceived bias (like that one) was proved wrong?
No, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised at either the articulacy or the frankness of the teenagers I interviewed. It has become a lazy stereotype that any generation of teenagers are a bunch of mumbling knuckle-draggers, and it remains so with this one – something I really wanted to challenge.
One of my favourite things about the book was everyone’s absolute honesty – it felt like they wanted their voices to be heard. If you wrote a sequel on the Millenials, or Generation Y perhaps, do you think they would be as candid, or is this a very modern occurrence?
The frankness didn’t really surprise me, as this is a generation that has grown up with the internet, reality TV, YouTube and so on. The notion of putting your stories out in the world isn’t unusual or strange to you guys – it seems to be something you all welcome and enjoy doing. I think this in part is what has fuelled the YouTuber phenomenon, as they exist to some extent as live diaries.
I noticed that you juxtaposed extremes quite often. For example, in the last chapter, you contrasted a very negative view on voting with a very positive one. Also at the start, the first account involving lots of wealth was followed by one from a very poor background. What was the intended effect? Was it to emphasise the story arc, to highlight how extreme each position was, or completely unintentional?
The thing of contrast was definitely intentional. We live in a country of such extreme inequality, it is a complete scandal. I’m not even sure there is a middle anymore. There are degrees of wealth from comfortable to obscenely wealthy and struggling to starving. This shouldn’t be allowed in any country, but particularly not one that claims to be a first world country. There are so many children going to school hungry and others being driven to £35,000 per year schools in limos only ten miles down the road – so this was my form of protest. When you move between the different worlds of the young regularly, this contrast can be pretty difficult to accept.
And finally, I loved how the strap line of ‘Their voices, their lives,’ was absolutely not clickbait! The personalities and opinions of all the teens really shone through, and at times I forgot I was reading and it felt like a conversation between me and someone going through a similar experience. In fact, I was surprised as I had expected that your last chapter, ‘Looking to the future and advice for the next generation,’ would be advice from you! I’m still very curious, so I have to ask; what advice would you give Generation Z as they enter adulthood over the next few years?
I have many bits and pieces of wisdom I both should and shouldn’t pass on. But the one I’d say today is – this thing too will pass. By that I mean, whatever thing you are going through right now – heartbreak, parental arguments, body issues, arguments with friends, failure at school, pressure – it doesn’t last forever. There will be a time in a week, or a month or a year, when it will matter and hurt a bit less, until it barely does at all. Of course, it will always be replaced by a new set of challenges – but that’s the challenge of living and being a human being!
I cannot add any more to that than to thank Chloe Combi so much for agreeing to make an appearance on my blog and also for being so fascinating in our email conversation! And also, of course, a heavy recommendation to read for yourself her book 🙂
Ooh yes, and I should just ask if you have any thoughts? As always, comment below!
And here is a speech Chloe Combi gave to Google on her book:
http://www.battleofideas.org.uk – the festival that started this post 🙂