From Lack of Rules to FOMO: Why Gen Zers Struggle to Self-isolate During the Global Pandemic

By Chiara Riezzo.

Less than a couple of weeks ago, everything seemed normal. At least, this was the case in some countries like the UK. COVID-19 was nothing but a virus with symptoms similar to a normal influenza. The outbreak began in the city of Wuhan, China, but no one knew where it was going. Now, a couple of weeks later, we know exactly where it went – everywhere.

Initially, we all thought COVID-19 was one of those things that ‘never happen to you’. For most countries currently on lockdown and undergoing national crises, COVID-19 was a faraway event occurring on the other side of the world. The news reports about it did not affect lives as much. Yet, it was exactly when everyone thought they were safe in their bubble of daily routine that COVID- 19 evolved from being ‘just’ a virus to the worldwide pandemic responsible for the worst global crises that Generation Z has ever experienced.

Unlike previous generations, Generation Z or those born after 1995 are true digital natives. They believe that technology can solve every issue. But will technology be enough to stop this pandemic and heal those tested positive for COVID-19?

This article will take you on a journey that goes back to the end of WWII and into the present again to explore how different generations are dealing with this pandemic.

This article argues that the younger generations and in particular, Generation Z are struggling the most to stay at home, especially because they have to rely on the authorities to inform them when to start living their life normally again.

The generation of our grandparents, the silent generation, lived through the horrors of World War II. They were taught to be seen and not heard. Our parents’ generation, the baby boomers, grew up amidst the tensions of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. They aspired to the ‘American dream’, but urban riots across the US and the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia made sure that dream never made it to reality. These experiences constitute the past on which the present is built. Tears and pain were buried away to make space for the rise of technology and digital media, economic expansion and the monopoly of a few big corporations, cultural convergence and the concept of a global village. Giddens (1990) described globalization as ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’. No other definition of globalization could capture more accurately how people’s lives, all over the world, are dependent on events occurring miles away, especially at this point in time.

The younger generations are increasingly more familiar with the intensified connectivity that Giddens forecasted for the 21st century. However, it is precisely this virtual connection which makes it easier for them to be in touch with friends during self-isolation that also explains why they are struggling to cope with the social distancing rules more than the older generations.

(Photo credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

Gen Zers have been exposed to the internet since they were born and thus, are referred to as iGen. They can access an incredibly vast amount of information and experiences with the power of one click and from the comfort of their own couch. They were born to be the best at being constantly connected with the world and to use their screens to scan reality and negotiate interactions in their daily life. They manage online and offline experiences and integrate the two to coin a new way of living made up of multiple realities. The main reasons why they need to make an extra effort to ‘stay in’ are:

1. They are not used to following the rules like the older generations. Instead, they celebrate freedom, self-reliance, and lack of trust in the media and institutions.

2. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Those aged 23 and younger commit to a war for who sees, does, and posts the most. From Instagram to Snapchat stories, they do not want to miss out on any new experience. Most importantly, they do not want their followers to miss out on their stories and latest posts. Both online and offline extreme social engagement is what differentiates the iGen from all the previous generations. Confinement within the walls of their room, either at a student accommodation or back home, is the cause of increasing mental health issues that is predicted to mark Gen Z and their perception of the world permanently.

Indeed, this pandemic has affected and is still affecting different generations in different ways. Generational identity notably plays a key role in determining how individuals face the current global emergency. It is responsible for the foreseen future of the younger generations that see nothing but their freedom being taken away and their lives becoming always more and more digital.

With the hope that online interactions will not be the only way of life in the future, I encourage Gen Zers to not let their fears steal their dreams. There is very little going on out there so try to recreate at home whatever you would not want to miss out on in this moment.


Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press

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