Last February, 16-year-old Ann Makosinski drew applause and gasps when she appeared on The Jimmy Fallon Show. The Victoria native was showing off her invention—a flashlight powered by the heat of a human hand—on a segment with two other young inventors. It wasn’t just Makosinski’s clever adaptation of technology that wowed the crowd, it was her inspiration: the plight of a friend in the Philippines who’d failed a grade at school because she lacked electricity to study at night. Her empathy-driven ingenuity has won her acclaim and the top prize for 15- to 16-year-olds at the Google Science Fair, a place on Time’s “Top 30 under 30” list as well as a barrage of media coverage. As she exited the stage, Fallon shook his head in awe. “I’m going to work for her one day, I can feel it,” he said.
Fallon’s line may be a cliché, but it echoes a growing sentiment as the spotlight is thrust on Generation Z, the unimaginative term for the cohort following Gen Y, or Millennials. While dispute rages over parameters, Gen Z are loosely defined as those born after 1995 and who are now 18 and under. It’s a big group: two billion worldwide, and one-quarter of the North American population.
Research points to the emergence of a stellar generation: educated, industrious, collaborative, and eager to build a better planet, the very qualities exemplified by Makosinski. In fact, in a manner typical of the need to neatly compartmentalize generations, Gen Z is already being branded as a welcome foil to the Millennials, born between 1980 and the mid- or late 1990s, who have been typecast as tolerant but also overconfident, narcissistic and entitled. Those characteristics weren’t an option for the first post-9/11 generation, one raised amid institutional and economic instability, informed by the looming shadow of depleting resources and global warming, and globally connected via social media.
Read more in our cover story, available today in our tablet edition, on newsstands tomorrow, and online next week.