A decade of identity

Tuesday, December 3, 2019 - 2:53pm

NOSELL

Zoe Phillips

In January 2010, I sat in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, squirming impatiently in an oversized chair — the entire room was designed for adults, but I was only 11. On the side table next to me sat the obligatory vase of fake flowers and pile of severely outdated magazines. On top was the previous December’s edition of TIME. The front cover offered a sneak peek of the issue’s topic: a decade in review. The rest of that memory is quite blurry. I don’t remember where the office was or what I was there for, but that red cover sticks out like a bright light. Barely older than a decade myself, the concept of 10 years was hard to wrap my young head around. I remember wondering where I’d be the next time TIME had to make another decade in review.

And here we are. I haven’t checked in with the offices of TIME, but The Daily will do.

Despite my ongoing disbelief and denial that 2020 is right around the corner, I will acknowledge that I feel quite removed from that girl in the doctor’s office. She is hidden deep inside the dustiest of my brain’s file cabinets. I don’t remember the specifics of her day-to-day thoughts, but in retrospect I do know that she was in for a whirlwind of a decade.

In 2010, the iPhone was barely three years old. None of my friends nor I owned any sort of cell phone and the only screens in my house were an old box TV and a desktop computer.

Later that year, Instagram came to fruition. In 2011, Snapchat would be founded by a trio of friends at Stanford University. Vine started in 2012, only to receive an ongoing international mourning upon its demise in 2016 — that same year — TikTok was born.

All of this is to say: my 2010-childhood world was teetering on the brink of an unprecedented social media revolution. At the same time that our parents and grandparents grappled with a world turned upside down, my generation became tasked with finding our places within the rubble. This challenge came alongside a decade of pop culture that would permanently define our coming of age.

Such experiences made for many interesting debates, a handful of seriously influential events and a constant cascade of new memes. I gave up on my attempt to list all of them. Instead, here is my highlight reel. Consider it my own version of a Vine compilation.

2010: At the MTV Music Awards, Lady Gaga walked the red carpet in perhaps the most infamous fashion statement of all time: her meat dress. I was barely old enough to be deciding on middle school dance outfits, none of which involved steak.

2011: The final Harry Potter film hit theaters and ended a full childhood of fandom.

2012: I was in eighth grade when a man shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I remember sitting in my morning English class the day that the story broke, looking up at a teacher who I worshipped. He’d been teaching for far longer than I’d been alive, but I still remember the look of his eyes that day, searching for answers that he did not have.

2013: The Jonas Brothers cited “creative differences” upon announcing their breakup, wreaking havoc on pre-teen fans across the world.

2014: Over Thanksgiving vacation I watched my cousin, a St. Louis native, stream the footage of Missouri v. Darren Wilson after the police shooting of Michael Brown. After the officer’s acquittal, I saw friends and strangers rally behind the newly formed Black Lives Matter. At the time, I did not realize or understand the importance and longevity of the anger that sat behind the hashtag.

2015: I came home from an international school trip the day that the Supreme Court announced its verdict to legalize same-sex marriage. I’d never been more proud of the country to which I was returning.

2016: I turned 18 just in time for the election. I voted, then drove back to school for a government class viewing party. As the night became increasingly unpredictable, our teacher told us to go home. One of my classmates asked our teacher if it would be OK. I still remember the worried smile she gave in response. I reconvened with a group of friends at the closest house. At word of Donald Trump’s victory, I remember intertwining myself in their arms for a long time. We slept on the living room floor that night and woke up feeling different.

2017: I watched the #MeToo movement build from my dorm-room bed freshman year of college. Every time my phone vibrated, I had to check to make sure it wasn’t a new headline. As the hashtag grew in depth and power, my reactions went from disbelief to anger to sadness and finally to a glimpse of hope. Amid the most disgusting of stories, our world started to confront it all.

2018: In October, the IPCC released its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5℃, warning the world that we would need “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to keep the atmosphere from continued warming. The update is one in a long list of reports and lack of political action that continues to threaten the future of my generation. Somewhere along the lines, global warming morphed from elementary school lessons on water conservation to an all-consuming issue. Much like the Great Depression for my grandparents, climate change stands to define our generation’s identity.

Now, it’s December 2019 and the new decade looms. The Jonas Brothers are back and we’re gearing up for my second presidential election. This time, I’m in a Starbucks instead of a doctor’s office and the stool where I’m seated feels too small rather than too big. Even as I write this reflection, ten years still feels like an incomprehensible unit of measurement. After all, much of my entire identity seems to be wrapped up in only one of them. My generation’s realities are nestled in between gun violence and sexual assault, inside cyber-bullying and stolen data. Amid all that fear, though, I find hope. Alongside the lives lost to guns are the March for Our Lives protestors. Next to victims of sexual violence are the activists calling for reform and education. In between the crumbling environment is Greta Thunberg and her growing number of supporters.

Elders tell us that technology and the internet makes our world bigger and scarier than it’s ever been before, but we’ve never known the alternative. We came into our own in a world where truly anything is possible, and we’ve taken that to heart. In the sentiment of comedian Hasan Minhaj, we have “the audacity of equality.”

I’m not sure where this crazy world will take us in ten years, but I find peace in our ability to keep striving for that ideal. It might not be achievable, but we don’t know anything different.