As we traverse the different factions of society in our search for identity and a place to belong, we also come across eras that we feel a connection to. These are called generational cohorts. Unlike familial generations, generational cohorts are a group of individuals born within a specific time period who have similar attitudes and preferences. They’re rooted in shared historical experiences spanning several developmental stages that determine similar values and behaviours in them.
The entire adult population can be viewed as six generational cohorts: The Greatest Generation (GI Generation): born 1901–1924, The Silent Generation: born 1928–1945, Baby Boomer Generation: born 1946–1964, Generation X: born 1965–1980, Millennials or Generation Y: born 1981–1996, and Generation Z: born 1997–2010.
Millennials are the most populated age group in modern history. Millennials came of age in a new millennium, hence the name, and have witnessed the evolution of technology. As a result, they are considered more progressive, creative and far-thinking than the earlier generations. Many millennials may also identify as being more concerned with intrinsic and moral values over extrinsic and material ideologies, according to Pew Research Center. They’re the most nostalgic generation for which they’re mocked and told that they need to “grow up”. But studies suggest that nostalgia is likely to occur in transitional periods and as a generation forever caught in a state of change given the utter lack of societal stability, it stands to reason that Millennials have a constant yearning for when things were just simpler.
Generation Z, colloquially known as Zoomers are the first digitally native generation, born at the peak of technological innovation. They are the generation who have always had access to a variety of digital platforms and social media allowing them to stay connected to all forms of self-expression, which has supposedly contributed to their increasingly liberalised viewpoints. This propagation of diversity is often also reflected in their self-expression, distinguishing them from previous generations. This includes gender-fluid expression with clothing and hair, and a morose mood that is befitting of their constant eco-anxiety. Members of Gen Z are perceived to be hyper-progressive individuals who were born in an era of shifting political power.
Stuck between the two, sharing characteristics of both of those generations but totally fitting into neither are the Cuspers or Zillennials. Cuspers are the micro-generation born 3 to 5 years at the beginning or end of a generational cohort. So at the cusp of Millennials and Gen Z are the Zillenials, a limbo generation too young for one and too old for another. We were born somewhere between 1993 to 1998 and are the middle child of our generational family silently observing the culture wars between the Millennials and Gen Z on the internet.
From the avocado obsession to the snowflake debacle, conflicting political views and a passion for activism – there are a million differences between these two generations. And it can be incredibly hard to navigate life when we’re not sure what we’re supposed to do, think and feel. We have friends who are married with kids at the top of their careers, along with friends that are okay with the fact they are still figuring out what’s right for them. Balancing both of those desires for the kids, marriage and a successful career but also making sure we live a life that fits within our values can be complicated.
The Zillennial is a unique generation, one that grew up first in the transition from the non-digital to the digital world. This factor becomes key in understanding why we’re the middle child. Neither have we spent much time in the VHS era as well as the Millennials have, nor are we comfortable in the crypto and NFT universe like the Zoomers. We are the first and only generation to remember a life before the internet took over while being a part of it now, yet Zillennial is a novel concept unrecognized by many.
Zillennials will remember watching shows considered ‘Millennial’ like Hannah Montana, Lizzi Mcguire, Wizards of Waverly place, That’s so Raven and Kim Possible growing up, while also having watched shows that are Gen Z associated like Dexter’s Laboratory, Recess, Samurai Jack and Phineas and Ferb. The lines are blurry for some of the shows due to their long-running time but more often than not, you’ll find yourself influenced by pop culture from both generations if you’re a Zillennial. When it comes to Indian network television, shows like Shaktiman, Karishma Kaa Karishma, Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, Khichdi, Hum Paanch, Shakalaka Boom Boom and Son Pari will surely spark a memory in the millennial side of your brain. Oddly Gen Z didn’t have much TV content for them in India. Also, streaming services had already developed in their childhood so they probably resorted to them for entertainment. It explains why Gen Z is more radical and connected globally than Millennials.
A TikTok user used party films as an example to differentiate Zillennials from their adjacent generations which rang true for thousands of users including myself. According to her theory, Millennials identify with American Pie (1999), younger Millennials love Superbad (2007), Gen Z adores Booksmart (2019) and those who fall in-between generations usually say Project X (2012).
When it comes to fashion, Nostalgia influences both generations but Millennials hang onto ‘90s trends whereas Gen Z finds comfort in the not-too-distant styles of the early 2000s. Gen Z has rejected skinny jeans and the side part. They are concerned about the planet’s well-being and are extremely aware of a brand’s sustainable responsibility. This generation does not respond well to buzzwords, greenwashing, and other unethical marketing practices. Zillennials may have influences and ideologies from either or both of these generations.
Even social media trends and pop culture references are filled with differences between Millennials and Gen Z but luckily, some tweets suggest that there are a few Zillennials out there unaware of popular names from both the generations. If you find yourself laughing on the zingers from both sides of this culture war, You’re a Cusper.
Humour has gone through some bizarre mutations between generations as well and honestly, is a great window into their essence. Boomers’ funny bone was about low-hanging fruits and putting down other people, Millennial humor is self-deprecating jokes about wanting to be dead. And Gen Z humor, is abstract, surreal, chaotic, often impersonal and thrives in absurdism. It’s a text on an unrelated image that you probably won’t get if you’re a millennial but just might if you’re a Zillennial.
Millennials grew up listening to Rock, Funk, and Pop music which was then saturated with Hip Hop and RnB. I remember the madness Slim Shady ensued before Eminem took over. While Millenial Hip-Hop fans still admire artists like Eminem, Gen Z finds them cringy or often problematic. Pop music is popular with Gen Z as well but it has lost the qualities of ‘Pop Music’. It’s all niche pop now with darker themes like the music by Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X or draws influences from varying genres like LoFi, Drum & Bass, and Psychedelic Rock. Following the fact that Gen Z isn’t interested in labels, artists from this generation are also foregoing genres altogether and creating music that transcends them. As a Zillennial I love that, but I also can’t forget Slim Shady.
Tracing the changes each generation went through and the differences and similarities they exhibit is an exhilarating journey in culture and identity. Despite all the roasts and culture wars, taking inspiration from each other’s generation and adapting to trends that might seem unfamiliar due to their novelty or their nature of being before your time seems to be a common phenomena today.
As for the Cuspers or Zillennials, we might feel out of place in the dialogue about generations but we also carry the best of both worlds that gives us a distinctive gaze. We can choose to cherish the nostalgia as a Millennial and enjoy the freedom of self-expression in the fluidity of identity Gen Z brings at the same time. Though I wish we’re represented more in the world as a Zillennial, I also hope we’re not bound by it.