This morning Harling, our Social Media Editor, told me she received a thank you note from a 15-year-old family friend. It came in the form of a text message and accompanying selfie. So casual-cool, right? It feels like just yesterday that I was printing my thank you notes on the floral paper my mom kept above our rock of a family computer and addressing them in my personal font flavor of Curlz MT.
But actually, that was 2002. And I have a sneaking suspicion that teens today wouldn’t touch that kitschy printer paper with a ten-foot sticky hand. Why would they? Snapchat filters add more spice to the mundane than anyone ever needed.
Think-pieces on Generation Z (or the iPhone Generation or whatever you want to call them) are probably at peak reach right now — it’s almost like no one cares about the narcissism of us millennials anymore — but I’m not here to wax nostalgic about the death of youth or taxes. I just need to get something off my chest: I am in awe of and intimidated by today’s teenagers and, frankly, have spent more time thinking about them in the past month than I did when I actually was one.
It all started when I moved to New York, where every teen-aged person seems to have the drawl, gait and demeanor of a movie star at the apex of their career. When I see them I perform a gollum-esque combination of staring and cowering. What happened to the awkward phase? Mine lasted for about nine years. That’s a phase, right?
I declared this interest a “spiral” last Sunday, when I found myself 72 weeks deep on the Instagram account of Lily Rose Depp, the just-turned-17-year-old daughter of some old dude named Johnny. To be clear: I only stopped because I’d reached the end.
Her bio fascinatingly reads: “this is my only form of social media! all other accounts (twitter, facebook, vine, snapchat, blog, etc.) are FAKE!”
I mean, really: the great outfit, the flawless makeup, the casual expression, the ironic caption? 2003 Hillary Duff would never. Or would she? Maybe we wouldn’t know, because ten years ago our teen idols were just the smiling faces starring in our favorite shows or fronting our favorite bands. We could only describe them in as much detail as Teen Vogue had profiled them. Knowing them further was as unattainable as knowing them personally.
And this is the crux of it: attempting to embody a version of cool that existed outside of our hometowns was like interpreting abstract art. We were left to our own shoddy devices.
Do you think I would have spent three years wearing sparkly powder that was curiously stored in the handle of a makeup brush AS MY FOUNDATION if YouTube makeup tutorials had existed? Do you think I would have wasted time reading US Weekly if Rookie had been a thing? Or dressed as I did had ASOS or Nasty Gal or Topshop been at my 2-day shipping beck and call?
If I’d idolized and followed Lily Rose Depp or Amandla Stenberg or Evita Nuh or Kiernan Shipka or Yara Shahidi or Sofia Wolfson or Kaia Gerber or Jaira Miller, I can’t imagine I would have wasted so much time with a frame of reference so small.
And it’s not like cool is everything — it’s only one thing. An often shallow thing. But teenagers now? They have it. And not just the adolescent version of it, the real it. The cool kids in my high school wouldn’t even register on the richter scale today.
I hate to be so trite as to circle this back to the Internet, but maybe the accessibility it affords — to idols, to fashion, to the very things we arbitrarily define as cool — has enabled the teenagers to, if not find themselves sooner, then at least appear as though they have to the rest of us.
Right? Or was this just a long way of retro-justifying how lame I was ten years ago?