TikTok’s Latest Cringe Trend: Gen Z Critiques Their Former Selves
“It made me feel very cool,” Poisson says of using the app. “Whenever I would travel somewhere like New York City, I always had to post a picture of the window on the plane.” While millennials also grew up with social media, they didn’t have 24/7 access to it on their phones as children, and the platforms that were popular in the early 2000s (Bebo, MySpace, MSN, and AIM) have all but disappeared, taking cringey memories with them. Snapchat, on the other hand, handily feeds users their memories from years gone by.
“I think we’re looking back and being like, ‘Who allowed us to post these things?’” Poisson says. “We’re also just laughing at ourselves, because the internet has changed so much and things that were once normal to post are now considered ‘cringe.’”
Mille Glue, a 19-year-old from Liverpool, England, cringes when she looks back on her childhood conspicuous consumption. In one Snap she recently shared on TikTok, a 13-year-old Glue had laid out her Christmas presents, including a laptop, high-end makeup, and £10 and £20 notes.
“I’m definitely more self-assured now and wouldn’t need to flash my Christmas money,” Glue says; she now thinks the post was “insensitive and privileged.” Looking back over her Snaps has made Glue “nostalgic and sad for my younger self”; she admits she was “attention seeking” as a youngster online and would create posts aimed at friends who upset her.
“I was definitely very easily influenced by my peers,” Glue says. If friends would post pictures of themselves out for a meal, she would too. She found laying out her presents strange, but “went along with it” because it “was just a thing that everyone used to post.” Both she and Lewington say they wanted to seem “grown up” when using Snapchat.
There is, of course, a darker side. Another TikTok trend sees people making videos captioned, “unrestricted internet access as a kid” before referencing the disturbing things they saw online. “There was definitely stuff that I saw involuntarily on the internet that I probably shouldn’t have,” Poisson says. On YouTube, which favors deeper analysis, Gen Z creators have made videos such as “Implications of Growing Up With the Internet on Gen Z,” featuring discussions of internet addiction, online sensationalism, and imposter syndrome.
As they enter adulthood, Generation Z is able to assess the strange ways the internet made them act—from decanting Dr Pepper to boasting about bedtimes. But Glue says it’s kids today she worries about. “I think children are exposed to social media in a way-more-intense manner than I was,” she says. “I think it just ruins young teenagers’ outlooks on life, because they don’t live in the moment and are more bothered about posting their photo dump on Instagram. This must be so exhausting and bad for their self-esteem, because they’ve only ever compared their life to people on social media, which is a structured narrative.” In 10 years’ time, who knows how these children—or, for that matter, Lewington, Poisson, and Glue—will reflect?