What zoomers think about 9/11

Have you heard the term zoomers? It’s what Generation Z calls themselves. I remember resisting using the term millennial because I thought it was absurdly self-aggrandizing. But now I see that the moniker is perfectly aligned to Millennial thinking.

The first time I heard my son refer to himself as a zoomer I said, “What? Zoomer? What’s that?”

“Boomer. Get it?”

“But you hate boomers. You want to disenfranchise them.”

Note: that is not an exaggeration. There are conversations all over the Internet about how if you are going to die soon then you are not voting to protect the future so you shouldn’t get to vote. Lots of young people think late-in-life voting is a big cause of the US ignoring climate for so long. I am not linking here. I am the link. Our dinner table conversation every night is the link.

Anyway, zoomer is a reference to the fact that the baby boomers were so self-involved and Generation Z is having to clean up after them. If you doubt how seriously the zoomers take their civic duty, consider that they don’t even require a fresh, shiny new name. They see themselves in the context of history and their obligation to turn our nation’s path. Really.

This morning as my sons were gathering food for their bottomless teenaged boy breakfast, my older son said, “Mom, it’s 9/11 today. I just want to remind you. Are you okay?”

I don’t say to him, I don’t need reminding. I’ve been writing about 9/11 every year on 9/11 for 19 years. Instead, I say, “I’m okay. Thank you for asking. What does 9/11 mean to you?”

“I guess I think of George Bush calling out countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 and bombing them. Is this for your blog? You should just tell everyone that if they thought 9/11 was bad, wait till the polar ice caps disappear.”

My younger son showed me the Roast of Justin Bieber on Comedy Central. You have to pay for that link, which, apparently, I did, but it was worth it. The whole thing is great, but I was struck by Pete Davidson‘s performance. He’s a comedian whose dad is a fireman who died on 9/11.

Pete made 9/11 jokes and the other comedians made jokes about Pete’s dad dying (yes, really) and I promise you, it’s funny. It was shocking to me, but not to my kids. Which is, I guess, why I can make Holocaust jokes but my relatives 40 years older than me never made a Holocaust joke.

I thought I’d be sad when 9/11 didn’t matter to the next generation. But actually, I’m happy that this generation is so politically aware that they can put 9/11 in perspective. And I’m happy for Pete Davidson. His dad would be so happy to know what an insightful, respected and funny young man he’s become.

58 replies
  1. me
    me says:

    P, thank you for this hopeful post. Confess I always worry you’ll forget to write something on 9/11.)

    I hadn’t heard the term zoomer before, but looking at the fab pic of your boys this morning, I’m feeling a little bit better about the future.

    Peace to you, sister.

  2. Graham
    Graham says:

    This is fucking excellent and it’s beautiful to read about young people sticking it to us about things we need to re-prioritise. We’re so mired in the horribleness of Brexit over here and sometimes I just want to get hold of people who are spitting at each other and make them watch a video of a dog digging frantically to rescue its pups from a fallen building and say, “Look!” “That’s life and death”. We’ve lost all sense of context and with it, too much of our compassion. God bless the Zoomers. I also have some sympathy with wanting to disenfranchise the Boomers because, in terms of Brexit, it was those utter brainless fuckwits that got us into this mess (NB. I confess to being a Boomer but not one of the fuckwit kind).

      • graham landi
        graham landi says:

        I said I didn’t confess to it. Also, I meant in the context of Brexit. I am sure I am a complete fuckwit in other areas of my life.

      • Carol of Kensington
        Carol of Kensington says:

        I feel sorry for the elitist, private school urbanites in London who just can’t comprehend the huge wide country that voted resoundingly for Brexit and then for the Brexit party a few short months ago. I think the oysters they eat at Sheekey’s fry their brain cells.

        • Cindy
          Cindy says:

          52% (vs 48%) is not a resounding majority. Statistics suggest that a lot of the rabid old gammon who voted for Brexit and blue passports have since died of old age…

    • Stephanie
      Stephanie says:

      Graham, I’d like to attest to your observations. I was living in the UK when Brexit happened. Friends my age (in their twenties) couldn’t wrap their heads around why so many old people voted leave. As an outsider, my un-PC opinion was that part of voting leave was an attempt to time-travel to the good ol’ days, when the British Empire was still great and powerful.

      In Hong Kong, where I’m from, proportionally speaking it’s mostly the Boomers who think the pro-democracy protests are ruining the city. They don’t care about communist rule invading Hong Kong – they want economic stability so that when things bottom out, they have enough money to leave the city and retire somewhere else. To them the kids who are out there protesting are just selfish whiners who don’t want to work hard.

      Back in the 70s Christopher Lasch suggested that people had lost the sense of historical continuity that would’ve forced them to locate themselves in the context of past and future generations. So all they focused on was the present, their immediate pleasures. Lasch framed this phenomenon as a symptom of modern American society, and if anything, it’s more prevalent than ever today, across the world.

      Another thing that may have contributed to young people’s resentment toward older folks: https://www.niemanlab.org/2019/01/old-people-are-most-likely-to-share-fake-news-on-facebook-theyre-also-facebooks-fastest-growing-u-s-audience/

      • Graham
        Graham says:

        Stephanie, your “un-pc opinion” is spot on. It might sound shocking in the context of democracy but the idea that old people are out of touch and should have less control over the future is compelling because it is hard to see their behavior as anything other than plain selfish. Ironic that the older generations in Hong Kong see young people fighting for change as selfish.

        Christopher Lasch was right. When we lose a sense of historical continuity we make previous mistakes again. There is a documentary series on TV here at the moment called “The Rise Of The Nazis”. Some of the actions of our present “government” are chillingly close.

        The fundamental issue is that old people are moaning about protecting our democracy and that democracy is broken, but it’s the zoomers who understand what democracy is and are ensuring it is alive and well.

        Power to them.

        • Carol of Kensington
          Carol of Kensington says:

          The establishment love being part of Europe, and they have taught the zoomers since pre-school that being part of Europe is equivalent to being clever and tolerant and the good kind of socialist.

          The elite hate that the hugest majority ever voted to make European laws and European rule over the UK illegitimate.

          I know you won’t thank me for pointing out these facts. Even having another espresso at Soho House won’t prompt any gratitude.

          The world extends beyond the Marylebone Road though and that’s why the suppression of democracy and sovereignty for over 30 years inspired the normies to vote to leave.

          • Samuel Johnson
            Samuel Johnson says:

            Is 51.9% to 48.1% really “the hugest majority ever” and a “huge wide country that voted resoundingly for Brexit”?

            You go on to mention that resounding vote was “then for the Brexit party a few short months ago”, but I don’t know what world you’re living in. There hasn’t been an election since 2017, over 2 years ago and 1 year after the Brexit referendum. The beauty of that election? Theresa May called it in order to gain a stronger majority to pursue Brexit, and *lost 13 seats*.

            I think you’re the one who needs to be worried about fried brain cells.

  3. Jenn Sutherland
    Jenn Sutherland says:

    I look forward to your remembrance posts as well. You always bring new insights or context to the date. I’ve been thinking about your sons and zoomer moniker since the monthly skype…it’s so fascinating, and also so hopeful that there’s a new generation coming in with civic-mindedness as a priority. I look forward to collaborating with all the zoomers to create a less toxic world.

    • Reichart
      Reichart says:

      Speaking of seeing oneself.

      How does one set up an Avatar here. I feel like I’m missing something very simple (which I should I have written on any t-Shirt I’m wearing).

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        It’s a Gravatar.
        According to Wikipedia – “Gravatar (a portmanteau of globally recognized avatar) is a service for providing globally unique avatars and was created by Tom Preston-Werner. Since 2007, it has been owned by Automattic, having integrated it into their WordPress.com blogging platform.”
        An account may be setup at the Gravatar website by clicking on the Sign In button (located in the top right corner of the page) and then clicking on the text “Create an Account” or “Continue with Google”.

        • Reichart
          Reichart says:

          That was very kind of you. My pic should show up now.

          It is odd to me that there is not an icon to instantly do this as part of the form in the reply.

          [_] Notify me of followup comments via e-mail
          [Sign up for account]

          …for example.

  4. Mandy Fard
    Mandy Fard says:

    As I was reading your last blog post, I noted that someone had left the following comment: “Off topic:Looking forward to reading your annual 11 Sep post…” I wondered why and what they meant by it; that was yesterday. As I read your September 11 post today, I could see why.. You have explained so many things so eloquently in so few words starting from the holocaust to zoomers. I had no clue about the term Zoomer, much less about their perspective on climat change or the boomers. Thank you so much for this post and all that I just learned from it.

    • me
      me says:

      @Mandy – I left that 9/11 comment yesterday on P’s previous post.

      P has been writing a 9/11 post every year (she was there when the towers fell). She always finds something new/thoughtful to say on the anniversary of the most horrifying day. I look forward to her wise words – she manages to make this sad day a bit more bearable…

      Don’t forget to come back here for next year’s post: It’s a tradition that helps me remember and find some hope, too.

      • Mandy Fard
        Mandy Fard says:

        I am new here and I am so glad to have found this wonderful platform. Thank you so much for having left that comment yesterday, and thank you more even for the explanation you just shared here with me. It gives me a much better perspective and I truly appreciate it. I now genuinely look forward to each and every new post in the future. I am not only learning from the blog itself, but I am also learning from interacting with others. Honestly, this is a first for me, and it is a delightful experience. Much gratitude to all.

  5. Ron
    Ron says:

    Penelope – I’ve been reading your blog since the very beginning and look forward to your annual 9/11 post because I enjoy the fresh perspective you put on this tragic event each year. You don’t just rehash you personal experiences with the ash etc.; instead you somehow make talking about 9/11 relevant in an entirely new way. I think this is exactly how history should be taught / learned / consumed – not as a set of facts to be memorized but something that can be reinterpreted and put into a current context.

    • Carol of Kensington
      Carol of Kensington says:

      I have been reading Penelope for many years too. I love her bluntness. The story about being hauled up and also drinking water from the loo, for me, the little details are the way to move into thinking about the overwhelming whole.

      I read just the other day that the reason the guy in the warehouse knew, and reported that there were people hiding in Anne Frank’s building was because someone had filled the warehouse cat’s water bowl over the hot weekend.

  6. harris497
    harris497 says:


    I think the evolution of your 9/11 posts is great. You’ve dealt with the horror of it and do a very subtle job of creating poignant linkages to it and current life. Perhaps the sub-themes you use are a bit too subtle though. I worry that others will miss the fact that you fear us making the same mistakes that resulted in the attacks and their aftermath. Also that ultimately relationships matter more than anything else.
    I love the fact that your boys look so much like you. In my culture, it means that they will be fortunate in life. In many regards, they already are.

  7. Thalia M
    Thalia M says:

    I’ve laughed at some pretty tasteless jokes but I guess I don’t get what’s so funny about a bunch of people being killed. Whenever I see entertainers or other important people flippantly mocking serious topics or, in this case, even tragedies, I wonder if I’m smart enough to be stupid now. lol The only time I laughed about the holocaust (and cried too) was watching the film “Life is Beautiful”.

    And I certainly don’t see a correlation with global cooling, er, I mean, global warming, that is, climate change, yes that’s it now. Well, except for the fact that many thought Hitler was the anti-chrst, thus predicting the world was coming to an end, much like the climate-change doomsdayers of the 60’s and 70’s and again now with Al Gore and AOC. There were even bestselling books about it, long forgotten now.

    And yes, I’ve seen the ageism too. My daughter-in-love mentioned that whole thing about banning their experienced elders from voting to which I reminded her “to be old and wise, one must first be young and foolish”. Instead of worrying about what will happen to the world and what we can do to prolong the life of a planet built for temporary housing, we should carefully consider our long-term exit plan.

    • Carol of Kensington
      Carol of Kensington says:

      What? No mention of the hockey stick? I still stumble over global warming, which was all the rage back in the day.

      Do these kids remember nothing from their school trips to the Natural History museum? Billions of years of global cooling, err, global warming, err, climate change….thanks for your comment btw.

    • Elena S
      Elena S says:

      Thank you for your comment Thalia. This is a post about ageism. The young think they know everything. Can you imagine someone comparing 9/11 to polar ice melting? Analogies always being the worst basis for a good argument. In a twinkle of an eye these zoomers (learning that term is the best part of this blog) will be too old to vote too. I wonder what they will say then? Darn I won’t be around to see that.

  8. Beth
    Beth says:

    I read this post earlier today and have always been moved by your 9/11 posts. That’s not the part that jumped out at me this time.

    I wasn’t aware of the controversy amongst “youngsters” about the older set voting. As a 57-year-old tail-end Boomer, I find this profoundly disturbing. It is beyond arrogant that someone who has likely never or barely even lived on their own to think that they have acquired more knowledge and wisdom than those who have lived for decades. While I cheer for their civic-mindedness, to dismiss the elderly because “they’re going to die soon so they don’t care about the future” is ignorant of the fact that the vast majority of Boomers have children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren that will be affected by whatever happens to this world.

    Perhaps they have just seen more than one social cause or debatable “scientific” fact come and go, and they understand that the world has sustained thousands of years of climate change already. Perhaps they understand history far better than kids who are barely even taught history now. Perhaps taking care of themselves and their family has given them a depth of wisdom that must be obtained by more than listening to current politicians and television shows and left-leaning education systems.

    It sounds like the biggest issue here is a total lack of respect for elders. Now THAT is a tragedy.

    • harris497
      harris497 says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. I believe the young are confusing the selfishness and self-interest of a subset of older folk with the norm. Many boomers have gotten a rap for being materialistic to the point of not caring for the well-being of others. We call it being individualistic. The chickens are coming home to roust.

    • Ibtisaam
      Ibtisaam says:

      If you consider how much information zoomers are exposed to (daily!), it is completely reasonable for them to “know” more than previous generations that have lived “decades longer”.

      Penelope, fellow mom of a zoomer, here. She is amazing too!

    • Craig
      Craig says:

      To me what is disturbing is not a lack of respect for elders, but a lack of historical knowledge about how very bad things can happen when you decide that a particular subgroup that represents the opposition no longer deserves the right to vote. I’m sure that any number of leaders/activists/revolutionaries for various causes would like to dispense with the messy exercise of democracy involving argument, persuasion, compromise, and building coalitions. It would be much more convenient to strip political power from dissidents. Is this the kind of thinking you get when so much of your learning is self-directed? No consideration of the implications of the “ends justifies the means” philosophy?

      I’m more afraid of the attitude of PT’s boys than I am of whatever disasters climate change has in store for us.

      • Maxwell
        Maxwell says:

        That’s the reason zoomers don’t want boomers voting, you put respect before something as serious as climate change. why should people who think respect is more important then extinction be allowed to vote?

        • Craig
          Craig says:

          It’s not about respect. If you decide to disenfranchise people because they are not voting the right way on a particular issue, why stop at opposition to climate policies. It’s not hard extend this logic and imagine that if someone decides you’re racist, you don’t get to vote. If you opposed gay marriage, you don’t get to vote. If you think that men and women aren’t completely equal in all facets of life, you don’t get to vote. People have already lost their jobs because of public statements on the last two issues (e.g. Brandon Eich, James Damore).

          It could easily swing to the other side of political spectrum. If you’ve had an abortion, you are a murderer and don’t get to vote. If you don’t tithe to an approved church, you don’t get to vote.

          Very bad things happen when you decide a particular group no longer deserves political power. This is how we get civil wars, holocausts, and reigns of terror.

          • Graham
            Graham says:

            Very bad things happen even when you don’t decide a particular group no longer deserves political power. The real issue here is that people talk about democracy as though it is synonymous with fairness. In fact democracy, by its very nature, is a reflection of humanity and is therefore bound to be unfair. All votes are clearly not equal and to suggest otherwise is to be ignorant of the facts. Sadly, most often people lose sight of what might be helpful for us all to acknowledge and instead resort to justifying their position even in the face of new and compelling evidence. If that doesn’t bully people into submission they sometimes use wild assumption and baseless insults. See “Carol Of Kensington” posts in this thread for excellent examples.

  9. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    P, I have been thinking about you over the past few days. 9/11 is never an easy day for me and I didn’t live it like you did. Even 18 years later, I’m not sure how to get through that day. I can’t imagine how traumatizing it is for you.

    And I think you’re right about generation z. I see it in my own 18 year old son. He sees his future ahead of him. He sees the damage being caused by climate change and how it affects them. And he wants to do something about it. It gives me hope for our future.

    P, it might be interesting to write about “the other side”, the generation z that doesn’t believe in climate change or gun control or (fill in the blank). There are so many of them and it boggles my mind how they can study the stuff in school, believe in science, see it with their own eyes, and yet still denounce it. They see children slaughtered in classrooms yet truly believe that we, as a civilization, can do nothing about it. It’s like a cult. And your writing and analytical skills would be a great asset in helping us understand this tendency.

    Sending you warm hugs and peaceful energy.

    • Ibtisaam
      Ibtisaam says:

      I think the exposure to information of the current generation, amplifies the intelligence, but also, the stupidity.

  10. Grace
    Grace says:

    I love reading your 9/11 posts each year.

    BTW – I recall seeing Margaret Atwood’s photo on a magazine cover called Zoomer a few years ago. Just saying. That’s what I associate with Zoomer. I flipped through it and it’s pictures of older successful people from Atwood’s generation giving each other advice.

    • Cathy
      Cathy says:

      Also: If young people really want to influence decision-making, they need to vote! According to US Census data, people age 18-29 are less likely to vote than any other age group…and that has been the case consistently for every US federal election since 1980. The older you are, the more likely you are to vote. In the 2016 federal election, 46% of 18-29 year olds voted, compared to 71% of people age 65 and over.

      • Reichart
        Reichart says:

        … if we added a VOTE button to FB/SnapChat, etc. ………………….. they would vote.

        And, we might be able to move towards Micro-Voting. Voting on the specific issues as opposed to having to deal with a large collection of issues from one person.

        This might be moving too fast for this point, but I’m a fan of removing humans from governance all together
        Hence I’m a-political. I just want science-based results.

      • Marsh
        Marsh says:

        Likewise, although voter turnout for 18 to 29 year-olds went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018 (a 79% jump – the largest percentage point increase for any age group) for the US Midterm elections, eligible voter turnout in 2018 among those age 65 and older was 65 percent for women and 68 percent for men compared with 38 percent of women and 33 percent of men in the 18-29 year-old age group (https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/04/behind-2018-united-states-midterm-election-turnout.html).
        What’s more realistic? More younger voters, or getting an older generation to pass laws removing their right to pass laws?

  11. Christopher Chantrrill
    Christopher Chantrrill says:

    Seems to me that your elder son has the conventional-wisdom opinions you’d expect from a son with a liberal mother.

    Nothing wrong with that, but nothing to get excited about.

  12. Caro Gris
    Caro Gris says:

    Greetings from Toronto! I wanted to leave a note here to talk about the term “Zoomer,” which in Canada refers to a group of Baby Boomers branded by media mogul Moses Znaimer. “Boomers with zip” is the slogan that describes the 45+ market of men and women who are living life to the fullest as they age. Here at ZoomerMedia, we have a magazine (Zoomer Magazine), national television stations (such as Vision and ONE), radio stations (The New Classical, Zoomer Radio), a trade show (The Zoomer Show), a think tank conference (ideacity) and affiliation with CARP (Canadian Association for Retired Persons). Our website is Everythingzoomer.com; feel free to check it out :) Reading Penelope’s post is the first time I’ve heard the term “Zoomer” used in a new context and now I’m wondering how similar or different the two demographics truly are.

  13. Mike
    Mike says:

    It seems like every single generation will be looking at the previous generations for what NOT to do. It is so important to notice the positives and negatives then work to minimize the negatives that the people that came before.

  14. ru
    ru says:

    hi penelope, the new website looks great. the new front and centre photo is spot on with back pack to highlight the education section.
    I like the fact the website loads faster. And the “what other people might be saying about me” section is a hoot. They all sound affectionate.
    please post more when you can.

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