Cyber Development

Surrounded by pixels, the way Gen-Z grew up had drastic effects on their mentality had drastic effects on their mentality

Sarah Ward, Reporter

At just 4 years old, senior Anoo Mallepalli was browsing games online, like Club Penguin and Nickelodeon Games. By 9 years old, Mallepalli had made an Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat account against their parents’ wishes. Then, Mallepalli’s parents found out about the social media pages and forced them to delete all accounts. But in the end, it didn’t matter. New accounts only take seconds to make.

“I think my childhood would’ve been extremely different if I wasn’t on the Internet,” Mallepalli said. “I think I got nearly all of my personality from being on the Internet really young, so I don’t know what I would be without it.”

With technology around every corner, the Internet has been forever integrated into every aspect of teens’ lives. In 2017, the Common Sense Media reported that nearly 95% of children under 8 in America live in a household with a smartphone, a 32% increase from 2013.

A large number of Gen Z has grown up on the Internet, following trends throughout the years in pop culture, casually learning politics and activism through social media and connecting with people all around the world.

“All of the music, movies, shows and people I found through the internet shaped me the most,” Mallepalli said. “I was super lonely in middle school and these online communities and internet friends were basically all I had.”

Even Mallepalli’s current best friend is someone they met on Tumblr three years ago. Despite the distance, these people are still intertwined in Mallepalli’s life in many different ways — whether they’re texting frequently, talking everyday or simply showing up in Mallepalli’s social media feed.

While Mallepalli understands that the Internet has brought them a sense of belonging, they also see how their life could’ve been different without it.

“On one hand, there are some things that I’ve seen on the internet that I definitely should not have [seen] at such a young age,” Mallepalli said. “On the other hand, my parents are very overprotective and I would be a very sheltered person had I not used the Internet to learn things myself.”

Flood of Information

As a young teen, Mallepalli recalls learning about various injustices — such as voter disenfranchisement, cycles of poverty, the school to prison pipeline around them and the systematic factors that caused these prejudices. These realizations opened their eyes to a new world, a world they believe they could not have seen without the aid of the internet and social media.

With this new information, Mallepalli began to have a pessimistic outlook on the world. It seemed like to them that no one their age knew or cared about the injustices. Their awareness of these issues weighed them down, almost like the burden of knowing these things changed how they looked at everything in their life.

“I felt passionate about wanting equity and abolishing oppressive systems but also I was like 12 years old,” Mallepalli said. “What could I do about it?”

Pew Research Center reports that Gen Z are more ethnically diverse and more educated than other generations, such as Millennials and Gen X. Mallepalli felt a sense not only of being more educated, but being more empathetic as well.

They feel more understanding, kinder and more open-minded with different perspectives, with the knowledge of many people’s suffering around the world. By understanding that a lot of today’s issues are more complex than they seem, Mallepalli began to be more welcoming to different sides of the same argument.

They also became more involved in politics today and social media activism, reposting resources online, volunteering for political campaigns and participating in clubs such as the Gender-Sexuality Alliance, Bring Change 2 Mind, a club about ending mental health stigma and Student Activist Union. Their internet presence provided Mallepalli with a double-edged sword, simultaneously allowing them to become more educated, but grow up way sooner as a repercussion.

A Sense of Maturity

At 9 years old, Mallepalli experienced rude strangers chatting with them on websites such as Kik and Omegle online. Mallepalli’s interactions with older people made them feel cool, allowing them a chance to not be babied and act older with a sense of accomplishment.

They felt validated. While Mallepalli believes that they already felt mature for their age in their pre-teen years, the exposure of chatting with those older with them reinforced this mentality. Growing up faster seemed natural to them.

Their perception of people on the internet seeming mature and intelligent meant they would mimic the perceived maturity to fit in. Though they stayed safe on the internet, Mallepalli says there were a lot of times they could’ve been in danger if the person they were talking to had bad intentions.

“Looking back, it’s kind of scary to think about how easily things could’ve gone so badly,” Mallepalli  said. “I definitely could have been more careful, but it ultimately worked out.”

Pew Research Center reported that 71% of U.S. parents believe that their children’s access to smartphones is more harmful than beneficial. Common Sense Media reported that parents are the most concerned with their child seeing sexual content, violence content and depictions of drugs and alcohol on the internet. Regardless of this, Mallepalli believes the Internet benefited them more than it harmed them.

A Safe Place

Mallepalli finds the most comfort in Tumblr, a social media website they’ve been using for 6 or 7 years. There, they found communities where they largely felt accepted.

“Having a community of people with similar interests and beliefs as me was always extremely comforting,” Mallepalli said. “Especially considering that I rarely shared these interests or beliefs with people I knew in real life.”

Furthermore, CNET, an American technology focus news outlet, discusses Tumblr as a safe space that was inclusive and welcomed people of all different sexualities and races. Mallepalli felt this too, as the website led to them being exposed to many different people of different sexualities, gender, and races which allowed them to become more open-minded.

These online communities welcomed Mallepalli, letting them become more accepting, kind and empathetic. They also helped Mallepalli with their own experience with gender and sexuality.

Mallepalli believes that the Internet’s scope of impact is significant to not just them but the entire generation. Being up to date with trends, pop culture, memes and music is vital to teenagers in 2020. It encompasses how the interact with each other and our sense of humor, it’s become entangled in every aspect of ourselves and the world around us.

“I’ve seen people get made fun of for not getting a meme or pop culture reference because they don’t use the internet,” Mallepalli said. “The internet is extremely essential to every aspect of teenage existence nowadays.”