BlogDigitisation & COVID19
[Blog Series] COV-IDENTITIES
Young adults weathering the COVID-19 pandemic: They are not a “lost generation”!
In the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic, public media ignited discourses that refer to young adults currently in their graduation periods as a “lost generation”. In this first blog post of the COV-IDENTITIES project, Tabea Bork-Hüffer and Katja Kaufmann seek to flip the perspective by asking: Which generation was ever better prepared and had more agency at their hands to cope with a pandemic?
When in March 2020 education institutions such as schools and universities in Austria, across Europe and beyond were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for many young people their futures seemed to be put on hold. While governments, educators and parents’ associations have started to wrangle over feasible exit strategies, public media recently ignited discourses that refer to young adults currently in their graduation periods as a “lost generation” (Tiroler Tageszeitung, 2020, April 11; New York Times, 2020, April 16), emphasizing pity and victimhood over agency and resilience.
Being framed by the media as a potentially forthcoming “Generation Corona” (Kurier, 2020, April 12), however, might only reinforce the tremendous negative impacts on the future perspectives as well as the self-perception of this group – deepening the psychological, social and economic hardships they already face. In this blog post, we aim to flip the perspective by asking: Which generation was ever better prepared and had more agency at their hands to cope with a pandemic?
Thanks to digital means, today’s young people are probably more prepared to cope with the pandemic than young generations in the past.
Current media discourses on young adults in their qualification period evoke notions of an unexperienced, non-resilient, overwhelmed populace not capable of dealing with the current situation. In these discourses, the so-called Generation Z, born in time period after 1996, is often separated from those born earlier who are ascribed more experience in general and with dealing with crises in particular. However, we claim that the question rather should be: Which generation was ever better prepared to weathering a pandemic and the accompanying lockdown measures than today’s young adults?
Through falling back on the online sphere, they continue making their lives, continue learning through switching to distance learning (often being much more prepared than their teachers and parents to do so), continue meeting friends and socializing online and they stay up to date on all aspects of the crisis while being in a lockdown. It seems that through digital means young people today have more agency at their hands to making sense and continuing lives despite the overwhelming change that has befallen all aspects of their lives.
Let’s imagine the Covid-19 pandemic had occurred 20 years ago, when videoconferencing was an exclusive business tool and smartphones were not even invented. Young people at that time would have been much more separated from the outside world, without means to continue preparations for their finals in schools or to follow up on their university classes, let alone ways to interact with groups of friends and extended families, staying up to date on their well-being and cheering up together in the face of worries as closely as digital means allow.
Although we are aware that a reconstruction of the current discourse surrounding the pandemic is more complex than implied above, what we seek to point out is the following: Europe is just a few weeks into the pandemic and both the media and the public seem to have already made up their minds on the dark future that irrevocably seems to be waiting for today’s young adults due to the pandemic. We do not want to talk down the tremendous impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having and will continue to have on the lives of people across the globe. Painfully playing out digital and data divides and other structural inequalities, there is little doubt that the pandemic will sharply increase existing global and social inequalities. Young people in the final stages of their education, apprenticeship and qualification periods, are indeed sorely struck by the pandemic because of the formative relevance of their current stage in life to their careers and identity formation.
My home is my campus; millions of students all over the world are currently studying at home due to decreed distance learning.
Yet, given the digital means in these young adults’ hands and their inventive ways to cope with the challenges they face, talking of a “lost generation” does not seem to do justice to the majority of young people in their apprenticeship and qualification periods in Austria. We call for an acknowledgement of the endeavours, competencies, agency and resilience of young people in this situation. Hearing young people’s voices, taking up and supporting their ways of coping, their ways of innovation and flexibilities that are deeply ingrained in the digital is crucial in navigating out of this crisis together.
We think it is time for letting young people tell through their own words, what they are actually doing to cope with the pandemic in their everyday lives and how they situate themselves in societal discourses through their identity work. That is why our team of the Transient Spaces & Societies Research Group has swiftly started the COV-IDENTITIES research project in mid-March 2020 that investigates the active and reflexive making of individual spaces and identities by young adults registered at Tyrolean educational institutions and the implications they see for their futures. We use a longitudinal, qualitative and mobile multi-method design to accompany these young adults through the months of the lockdown. We aim to understand the effects of the pandemic and the related measures of decreed self-isolation, social distancing, distance learning and concurrent financial, social and psychological hardships faced, just as young adult’s reflexive responses, on their everyday spaces, practices, identities and future perspectives.
In the coming weeks and months, we want to accompany our highly topical and dynamic empirical research project – the course of which seems for now to be as unpredictable as all aspects of life in face of the pandemic – with a series of blog posts. In this way, we – including our committed student researchers – aim to make room to reflect on our experiences, to communicate early insights into our data to the interested public and to connect with researchers and parties concerned.
Which generation was ever better prepared and had more agency at their hands to cope with a pandemic?
by Tabea Bork-Hüffer
Geographer, University of Innsbruck