The root of Gen Z’s hyperindividualism
Creator Michelle Skidelsky on why internet discourse is so toxic now.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Paid subscribers first learned about Michelle Skidelsky’s work a few weeks ago in the Sunday Scroll … just saying. —Kate
For non-toxic internet discourse:
TikTok’s For You page algorithm has the unique ability to drop its users directly in the middle of an argument. Already several stitches deep, you’re forced to work backward for context. That’s confusing in the best of times, but even more so when the argument is about something as simple as “we should generally be polite to one another.” Yet, for some reason, it’s that opinion 20-year-old Canadian creator Michelle Skidelsky has been forced to defend again and again online.
“I am horrified by the amount of people who genuinely think they don’t owe anyone anything,” she says in a March 16 video. By anything, she means niceties as benign as nodding through a boring conversation or offering a small laugh to unfunny jokes. Spending a pandemic online appears to have resulted in a subset of a generation that broadly supports social justice while at the same time rejecting any obligation to individual responsibility—a hyperindividualism that’s exacerbated by the internet’s proclivity towards “whataboutism.”
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“I honestly just stumbled upon this because people were being so mean to me,” she tells me over Zoom. After making a playfully snarky video about the flavored water trend, Michelle was met with an oversized backlash, and in her attempts to respond to and unpack the reactions, she ended up sparking a larger conversation about internet discourse and what it has done to the Gen Zers who have grown up with it.
I wanted to chat with Michelle because she was putting into words something I had been trying and failing to properly articulate for the past few years about the way the internet has changed our relationship with ourselves and each other. I also figured that her astute ability to pick up on these hyper-meta cultural shifts would lend itself to other questions I had about Gen Z’s relationship with the internet, social justice, and news consumption. This interview for paid subscribers is a wide-ranging conversation between Michelle and myself about just that, and is crucial to understanding not just how the internet is changing our social and behavioral habits, but also why.