Why Gen Z are on speed

From voice notes to uni lectures, they fast-forward everything. Hey — don’t blame us, we’re in a hurry, say three young writers

Georgina Roberts at home in Wimbledon
Georgina Roberts at home in Wimbledon
Georgina Roberts | Bella Arthur | Poppy Koronka
The Times

I am a “skipper”. It’s not just books

Georgina Roberts, 26
I haven’t read a book cover to cover for years. I’ll get three quarters of the way through, then lose interest and skip to the final page. I just can’t be bothered to slog through the rest to find out how the story ends — I want to know now.

Why do I do this? It’s because I am a “skipper”. I would rather jump ahead to the good bit than take the time to do something slowly and risk becoming bored.

It’s not just books — I’ll fast-forward to the middle of a song to hear the chorus rather than waiting for them to sing the verses, or click to the middle of a film on Netflix and watch a few minutes to see if it’s worth committing two hours of my life to watching.

I did an online ADHD test recently. The results came back to say I had symptoms highly consistent with ADHD. To be honest, I didn’t think twice about my online diagnosis or follow the test’s instructions to speak to my GP. Because I don’t think my short attention span is anything to do with ADHD. I think it’s a Generation Z thing.

My friends are just as bad as me. We send voice notes to each other because it’s quicker than texting, but won’t even bother to listen to the whole recording. Our attention spans and willingness to diligently sit through something we might not enjoy are shot to pieces.

It’s not hard to work out why. We grew up with the instant gratification and distraction of social media. First it was photos that disappeared after three seconds on Snapchat, then it was Instagram stories with a 15-second time limit. Then, during the pandemic, along came the shiny new kid on the social media block, TikTok, the speediest platform of all. The videos are only a few seconds long, and the songs they feature are often speeded up to double time. I’ve been listening to the speeded-up version of Toxic all week, where Britney’s voice sounds like a chipmunk because it’s so fast.

My mum is constantly telling me to slow down, and yes, my friends and I live life at a fast pace compared with our Gen X parents. But at 26, we are pushing the top age bracket of Generation Z. It turns out our love of all things speedy is nothing when you look at the younger members of our generation, whose attention span is even shorter. I might be a skipper, but the teenagers of today really do live life at double speed. That’s to say, thanks to the 1.5x and 2x button, they just watch and listen to pretty much everything on fast-forward.

Bella Arthur
Bella Arthur

‘I listen to lectures at 1.5x speed’

Bella Arthur, 20
It started when I was in sixth form. I used to listen to podcasts speeded up because I had so much work I’d say, OK, I have 45 minutes to listen to this hour-long podcast, I’ll just play it speeded up. Then I had friends in older years coming back from university and saying, “Oh yeah, I missed the lecture and I listened to it speeded up.”

When I started university during the pandemic, it was completely online. I’m now in my second year at Durham, studying liberal arts. I have 15 hours of lectures and seminars a week in history, French and Spanish. Throughout my degree, anything that’s recorded, I listen to it on a fast speed, especially when it’s about medieval French. If you have the option to, why not?

There’s a lot of striking going on at the moment with university lecturers, so lectures are online, if they’re happening at all. I listen to them at 1.5x speed, but if they’re in a different language it’s trickier, so I’ll do it at 1.25x speed. I would listen to my anthropology lectures last year at 1.75x speed, because they would speak so slowly.

Why do I do it? They just really drag along. Our lectures are meant to be 50 minutes, but they are not 50 minutes in any way, especially history. Obviously historians love their reading, so I ended up having lectures that were an hour and 20 minutes long, going half an hour over. For lecturers, it’s almost like a documentary they’re putting out every week, speaking about a certain topic for an hour, ranting about their passions. It can be really interesting, but we’re, like, “OK guys, this could be a bit quicker.”

I have a lot of friends who are 40 lectures behind. If I wasn’t able to speed lectures up, I would put off listening to them, just because they’re so long. Honestly, it would take me for ever — two or three hours to write it all down. Speeding it up really saves a lot of time, because you can pause it and write all the notes.

My friends who do engineering have 17 hours of lectures a week, and they always skip going to their lectures live. They watch them all together on the big screen in the living room of our house, speeded up really quickly. I think if the lecturers knew, they would appreciate that they’re actually listening, rather than a bunch of hungover students looking at the ceiling in a lecture hall.

I do cheerleading and the songs in our soundtrack are three times as fast as the original version. When we’re dancing to Power by Kanye West, or the Pussycat Dolls, it has to be speeded up really, really fast, so it has a big impact. Even on social media, “time-lapsing” is a big trend. It’s a feature on an iPhone that compiles loads and loads of photos into a video, so what would have been a collection of photos that takes three minutes to look through ends up being a 15-second short video.