The third episode of Grown-ish‘s second season explores the world of Generation Z with insightful nuance on how technology impacts the behavior and politics of their social group.
Zoey (Yara Shahidi) has been at school long enough to observe and reflect on her own particular college culture, and more broadly, her generation’s — the group after the Millennials known as “Generation Z”. This group was born in the mid-90’s to early 2000’s, and has never known a world without cell phones and email. This group subconsciously knows to consider everyone’s opinion before posting a public photo, because they have grown up knowing the digital identity can be as essential to the self as their physical face.
Social groups like Zoey’s are more connected than ever. They habitually keep in constant touch not only through texting, but by literally sharing their geographical locations so friends — and presumably some parents — can always keep a digital eye on them.
This kind of voyeuristic symbiosis is both satisfying and sickening. The relief of anxiety provided by knowing where your friends are can easily turn into an anxiety inducing experience of wondering why you weren’t invited. There is an expectation to always be “on the grid,” that holds the group accountable to each other. It’s hard to lie to someone about your movements when your phone records all of them.
Which is why when Zoey spots Jazz’s boyfriend at a party without his girlfriend, she’s shocked. The third episode of Grown-ish does an impressive job of broadcasting all this information in under three minutes in the cold open.
Generation Z is held to a high level of accountability. Jazz (Chloe Bailey) gets angry at Zoey for equivocating for 42 minutes instead of interrupting her duplicitous boyfriend. Jazz even has the time stamps on the texts to back up her argument. Even the sneaky dishonesty of gossiping in separate group chats can be exposed through screenshots and “receipts”. Generation Z knows what its predecessors did not — that information released in the digital space is permanent.
Even worse, being iced out in a world of constant connection can be incredibly painful. Zoey literally has a panic attack when, after all her friends ignore her in physical and digital spaces, her phone dies.
“We act like we’re all free and liberated but we have all these rules, and I can’t keep up,” Zoey summarizes, in an honest moment of old school, face to face conversation. She and Luka (Luca Hall) guess that the need for constant communication stems from a desire for control. It’s a fundamental human drive to control — from early ancestors controlling their environments by building structures, all the way up to Generation Z and technological boundaries they draw around each other in the social space.
Zoey ultimately apologizes to her friends for her re ticence, and suggests that it might be possible moving forward to build more trust in her friend group sans digital social statutes. This may be the foundational question for Zoey’s generation — can there be trust without verification?
Grown-ish continues its 13 episode season Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC Freeform.