Were you born in the mid-to-late 90's? Was 9/11 one of your earliest vivid memories? Did you have an analog childhood and a digital adolescence and early adulthood? Did you grow up playing with Tamagotchi’s, Gameboys and Bratz dolls? Do you feel too young to be a Millennial but too old to be a Gen Z’er? Then congrats, you’re a Zillennial! Meaning you’re not fully one or the other, you’re a mix of both. Be prepared to live the rest of your life with a serious case of generational middle child syndrome.
Micro-generations are not a new concept. They’ve been a thing since the mid-20th Century. Which comes as no surprise since that’s when technology really began to evolve and spread worldwide, starting with the television becoming a staple household item by 1955. Generation Jones (Baby Boomer and Gen X cuspers born roughly between 1955–1964) are the earliest micro-generation that’s been properly studied and acknowledged by research experts. They were too young to attend Woodstock and participate in Beatlemania, but were too old to have their teen years defined by MTV and John Hughes movies.
Xennials (Gen X and Millennial cuspers born between 1977–1983) are the next micro-generation who’s childhoods were also shaped by technology. They’re nicknamed “The Oregon Trail Generation” and they were the first group of people to have grown up with computers and the internet. They didn’t get cell phones or start using social media until their 20’s. And they were the most affected by the recession. The world changed dramatically during their formative years, which ultimately resulted in them having interesting outlooks on life. Xennials don’t possess the same cynical and nihilistic mindset as their Gen X predecessors, but they’re also not as optimistic and hopeful as Millennials.
Zillennials (born between 1993–1998) are probably the most underrated generation in recent decades. Since our identity has only recently been established, many people are still totally unaware of our existence. Being born in 1997, I often had a difficult time figuring out which generation to identify with before I found out what Zillennials were.
Mid-to-late 90’s babies watched people jump to their deaths out of two collapsing skyscrapers on live TV when we were toddlers and little kids. We watched helplessly as our parents stressed out over losing their jobs, while at the same time watching Obama’s inauguration with hope in our eyes when we were in middle school. My teachers sometimes asked us to share stories and memories of how our lives were affected by all this. Meanwhile, kids and teens nowadays are learning about 9/11, the recession and the election of the first black president as historical events in textbooks, rather than things they were actually alive to witness. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around that, to be completely honest.
Those of us who spent our elementary and middle school years in the early 2000’s were the last group of people to grow up with analog technology. We lived out our childhoods in a very transitional period. I remember when New York City had payphones on every block. I consumed my favorite movies on DVD’s and VHS tapes. I listened to CD’s on Discmans and boomboxes. I had to plug an ethernet cable into my laptop in order to access the internet. I remember the birth of Youtube and how I almost gave my cousin’s desktop multiple viruses after illegally downloading music from Limewire. Up until the age of 11, I talked to my friends on a home phone and my mom always told me I had to wait until after 9pm to do so because that’s when we had free minutes. My first cell phone was a red Motorola Rizr (not to be confused with the iconic pink Motorola Razr that every girl wanted back in the day) and texting on the T9 keyboard made my thumbs sore on the regular.
We ate 90’s snacks like Dunkaroos and Lunchables, but we also ate early 2000’s snacks like Yogo’s and Gushers. Getting our ankles annihilated by Heelys and Razor scooters in the playground was normal. The Wii was regarded as cutting edge technology when it was released and if you had one, you were the coolest kid in school. Zillennials waited in anticipation for every “Harry Potter” installment to come out. Going to the movies to see “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was one of the biggest pop culture milestones for us at that point in time. To top it all off, we grew up during what most of us would consider the golden age of children’s television. Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network were in their prime. Coming home from school and watching “Hannah Montana”, “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody”, “H2O: Just Add Water”, “Jimmy Neutron”, “Teen Titans” and “Total Drama Island” (among many others) was my favorite activity. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that those shows made me who I am today.
By the time we reached high school, the general population had already acquired smartphones and wifi. Our accounts on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram were all set up, we spent our free time sending each other the earliest versions of memes (which are seen as ancient now) and Vine (RIP) was our biggest source of quick entertainment. “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” were at the peak of their popularity, most of us were going through an emo, swag or mustache phase (if ya know, ya know) and MTV had fully switched to broadcasting reality shows instead of music videos. Justin Bieber and One Direction were the biggest pop stars on the planet, dance crazes like the Gangnam Style and the Dougie were all the rage and everybody was desperate to host or attend a “Project X” party. It was a pretty chaotic and cringey era to go to high school in, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I’m not comfortable with being labeled as a Millennial because I hate avocado toast, I never understood the “Friends” hype, I was not old enough to be afraid of the world ending in Y2K and I would never use the word “adulting” in a non-ironic way. But at the same time, I’m not comfortable with being labeled as a Gen Z’er either. I didn’t exit the womb with an iPhone and iPad in hand, I still think of the Ke$ha song when I hear the word “TikTok”, I was fortunate enough to graduate high school before the Trump administration and trying to keep up with current social media trends makes me feel like a grandma.
After doing extensive research on all things Zillennial life (which consisted of finding starter pack memes and subreddits full of people like me who were eager to discuss legendary pop culture moments that defined our youth), I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and unity. The study of generations can be flawed. It’s difficult to definitively pinpoint exactly when a generation starts and ends. We all remember and experience different things at different times. But it’s nice to know that there are people out there who lived similar lives to you. Sharing and bonding over the things that made your formative years great is something that makes you feel connected. The need to be seen, heard and understood is natural. We all want to find people who we can relate to. It makes us feel like we’re a part of something and we’re not alone.
Deep down, I’ll always feel like that one unmarried, childless auntie that’s stuck in the middle between all the grandparents, parents and kids fighting each other at the family reunion. But I’ve accepted that. Zillennials have a unique place in society. We were truly lucky to get the best of both worlds. Growing up in a time where everything was changing at such an alarmingly rapid pace before our very eyes has shaped us into individuals who have the ability to look at things through multiple perspectives. I’m quite proud to be a part of this demographic and I can’t wait to see what we have to contribute to humanity moving forward.