“I felt very cool,” Poisson says of using the app. “Whenever I traveled somewhere like New York, I always had to post a picture of the airplane window.” Although millennials also grew up with social media, they didn’t have 24/7 access to it on their phones as kids, and the platforms that were popular in the early 2000s (Bebo, MySpace, MSN, and AIM) have all but disappeared, taking creepy memories with them. . Snapchat, on the other hand, easily feeds users their memories from years past.
“I think we look back and ask, ‘Who let us publish this stuff?'” Poisson says. “We’re also just laughing at ourselves because the internet has changed so much and things that used to be normal to post are now considered ‘creepy’.”
Mille Glue, a 19-year-old from Liverpool, England, cringes when she looks back on her conspicuous consumption as a child. In one clip she recently shared on TikTok, 13-year-old Glue displayed her Christmas presents, including a laptop, high-end make-up and £10 and £20 notes.
“I’m definitely more confident now and I wouldn’t have to throw away my Christmas money,” says Glue; she now thinks the post was “insensitive and privileged”. Looking back on her Snaps, Glue became “nostalgic and sad for my younger self”; admits to seeking attention online as a youngster and creating posts for friends who upset her.
“I was definitely very easily influenced by my peers,” says Glue. When friends would post pictures of themselves at a meal, she would too. She thought the gift-giving was strange, but she “went along with it” because it “was just a thing that everyone was posting.” Both she and Lewington say they wanted to look “grown up” when using Snapchat.
There is, of course, a darker side. Another TikTok trend sees people making videos with the caption “unlimited internet like a kid” before mentioning disturbing things they’ve seen online. “There were definitely things I inadvertently saw on the Internet that I probably shouldn’t have,” Poisson says. On YouTube, which favors more in-depth analysis, Gen Z creators have produced videos such as “The Implications of Growing Up With the Internet on Gen Z,” discussing Internet addiction, online sensationalism and impostor syndrome.
As they enter adulthood, Gen Z can appreciate the weird ways the internet has made them behave—from decanting Dr. Pepper to bragging about bedtimes. But Glue says it’s the kids he cares about today. “I think kids are exposed to social media in a way — more intense than I am,” she says. “I think it just destroys young teenagers’ outlook on life, because they don’t live in the moment and are more bothered about posting their photos on Instagram. This must be so draining and bad for their self-esteem because they’ve only been comparing their lives to people on social media, which is a structured story.” In 10 years, who knows how these kids—or, for that matter, Lewington, Poisson and Glue—will fare?