The age of indulgence: Addressing our generation’s overconsumption issue

Unrecyclable debris tangled in nets near garbage dumps in London, England.
Unrecyclable debris tangled in nets near garbage dumps in London, England.
Harley Weir

Amidst the endless scroll of TikTok dances and the constant hum of online chatter, have you ever felt the temptation of the latest gadgets, fashion trends or skincare must-haves drawing you in at every turn? Welcome to the world of Gen Z swiftly becoming Gen Alpha. The desire for the newest Stanley Cup, Ugg Tazz Slippers or Versed Bubble Headband isn’t just a brief hunger that goes away the next day, but a reflection of a broader trend among today’s youth. In the era of instant gratification, the consequences of overindulgence are becoming increasingly noticeable. Let’s take a closer examination of how Gen Z and Gen Alpha engage in influencer and consumer culture, and why it’s an issue.

 

Consumer culture: What is it?

Apart from finding edgy, entertaining content and a way to connect with people –– bite-sized content on apps like Instagram and TikTok has given way to overconsumption, consumerism, materialism, compulsive buying, overindulgence, you name it. Today, brands no longer need to spend millions on traditional advertising. All they need is a good social media manager who knows how to capitalize on trends. While Instagram has simplified its user experience by removing the “shopping tab,” TikTok has adopted a similar feature that made it extremely easy for brands to sell their products directly through the app and provide a leisurely checkout experience. Content creators on TikTok often double as product sellers, blurring the line between genuine content and an endless stream of ads. Because of the platform’s algorithm, it feels as if almost every time you settle in for a daily scroll, there’s an ad bombarding you with every other video. De-influencing is a new social media phenomenon where users attempt the opposite of influencer marketing, urging each other to resist the impulse to make a purchase that they don’t need. With the younger generation’s diminishing attention span, short-form content has emerged as the perfect opportunity for self-marketing. 

Just a few years ago, content on TikTok and Instagram Reels was deemed ”cringe.” However, people noticed the power of algorithms over time. The pandemic fueled a surge in social media app usage, as most people lost their jobs or had to work from home. There was a visible rise in influencers and trends of all kinds, with fast fashion, in particular, opening its gates to wider audiences. Epitomized by extravagant $700 Shein hauls and shopping sprees dominating the internet, most of these items ultimately ended up in thrift stores and landfills. 

 

Gen Z and the impact of social media

With how fast-paced the world has become, people are now expected to be available around the clock. This constant demand has undeniably resulted in an extensive burnout experienced collectively by an entire generation, and the negative effects that has on their mental health are very well known. According to Jason Wise of EarthWeb, a whopping 97% of Gen Z admit that social media is our go-to inspiration for shopping, and more than 65% of us use social platforms to communicate, build relationships, get information and check on our friends and family. Most of the products we buy thanks to momentary social media trends are completely unnecessary and harmful to our environment. Because Gen Z’s overconsumption problem is fueled by social media and influencer culture, it should come as no surprise that these social media apps cause more harm than good. However, these days it is impossible to picture a life away from it –– and it’s an infinite loop of self-destructive behavior.

As genuine digital natives with a pro-government stance and a commitment to social justice and progressiveness, Gen Z emerges as the most educated and ethnically diverse generation in the history of our country. However, we also reveal higher levels of loneliness, anxiety and depression compared to previous American generations. The eldest members of Gen Z who experienced events like 9/11 during their preschool years, are well-trained in active shooter drills, and have grown up facing frequent and intense natural disasters. Unlike our Gen X and Millennial parents, Gen Z parents will be likely to acknowledge the potentially harmful effects of technology and social media. We will be more inclined to adjust both our own and our children’s technology usage to mitigate these negative impacts. Despite this, we may still find it challenging to develop relationships without online connections.

 

Gen Alpha: The new wave facing a bigger threat

As the spotlight shifts to Gen Alpha, there’s a new trope emerging –– the “10-year-old girls in Sephora.” Comprised of people aged predominantly under 13, they have become known online as the generation of children glued to their screens, which has burdened them with the unflattering label “iPad Kids.” To keep up with these fast-moving online trends, children might feel pressure to buy products they see in influencer content, evident in skincare brand trends like Drunk Elephant. This may imply growing up too fast or that they’re overly materialistic and indulged. This has already stirred online mockery, as some people have labeled Gen Alpha humor as “brain rot.” 

Parents of Gen Alpha are facing criticism for allegedly indulging their children with material possessions. Their lives are deeply intertwined with social media, and they have never experienced a world that isn’t readily accessible at the tip of their screens. Many argue that parents should prioritize teaching values over providing material goods, with several users on the app asserting that parents are to blame for spoiling and inadequately disciplining their children. But this isn’t the first time millennials have been blamed for society’s perceived concerns with the youth of today; millennial parenting has recently faced a brutal reckoning on TikTok, as users have accused these parents of raising badly behaved, technology-obsessed children. 

 

So what’s the real issue here?

Shopping, much like many of our activities, fulfills deep emotional needs. Especially during times of uncertainty, it restores some control in our lives. However, in our time of effortless consumption, we often overlook the detrimental effects it is causing to us. Beyond its obvious and fundamental strain on the planet’s carrying capacity, it is also pushing us into unprecedented levels of debt. It is easy to become entangled in the unending cycle of overconsumption, particularly when the world around us is in shambles, making it seem like a minor concern. In reality, it’s building up to something bigger and much worse –– and we’re well past the point where we can reverse the impact. Simply because a brand is relatable doesn’t make it any different than the rest. All they are doing is selling us a product –– and the sooner we realize that, the better. 

 

Works cited: Wise, Jason. “Gen Z Social Media Usage Statistics 2024: The Latest Trends, Facts & Data – EarthWeb.” Earthweb.com, 16 July 2023, earthweb.com/gen-z-social-media-usage-statistics/.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Marley Page, Staff Reporter
Marley Page is a senior and is thrilled to serve her first year on staff. Apart fr0m newspaper, she is involved with Operation Smile, NHS, and Yearbook at Vandegrift. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts, spending time with her friends, and volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages of Austin.

Comments (0)

All Vandegrift Voice Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *