Bonnie Greer. Image: Fennell Photography

Bonnie Greer: What Gen Z’s narcissistic playback means for the future of work

14 Jan 2020

Speaking at a Future Human pop-up event, Bonnie Greer observed how the TikTok generation’s intelligence needs to be taken seriously.

Bonnie Greer is perhaps best known to an Irish audience for an appearance on Question Time in which she flatly informed those watching in the UK: “Ireland owes this country nothing.”

The moment in which the Chicago-born playwright and novelist spoke for the nation of Ireland drew her into many hearts and minds, and some of them came to draw more from her talk at the Future Human Leaders’ Lunch during the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in Dublin.

In the context of Future Human, Greer set her keen insight on a technology platform that exploded in popularity after a 2018 merger and began catapulting influencers to audiences of millions by the close of 2019. TikTok, the Chinese social media platform that has reached users around the world, is the new content creation tool of choice for the young, hip and tech-savvy. Though, like any mass-adopted platform, it is not without its controversies.

The platform has been dogged by accusations of censorship, particularly of views critical of China. Leaked moderation guidelines have revealed suppression of content depicting homosexuality and a more recent report uncovered a policy of ‘protecting’ users with disabilities by limiting their reach.

“You have to be kind of beautiful and you have to be a little weird to be a star on TikTok,” said Greer. She illustrated this point by introducing the gathered audience to Charli D’Amelio, a TikTok user with 17.5m followers and counting.

D’Amelio is part of a collective based at Hype House, an LA mansion where she and other influencers spend their days creating content for TikTok. It’s the height of Generation Z glamour, and often something older generations struggle to get their heads around.

For starters, there’s the posturing and appropriation that much of this popular content invokes. “This is a white, privileged girl who thinks – and who knows, actually – that it’s OK to mimic an inner-city African-American guy talking about a woman’s body,” said Greer.

‘Generation Z are partly about self-reflection, much more so than their older brothers and sisters, the millennials’

But then there’s the simple fact that, not having grown up on TikTok as teens are doing right now, we can’t connect with the platform as they do. They have an insight and intuition with this particular technology that we won’t possess simply for having come of age without it.

As Greer reminded us, we have all put on a performance in a mirror, but in Hype House the mirror is a tool in the content creation process, and the intimate moment of goofy mimicry is one to share with a global audience. This is what Greer referred to as Gen-Z’s “narcissist tendency”.

“They’re not narcissistic, they are into narcissists. So there is this whole concept of ‘no filter’ writ large. They don’t move or do anything without feedback from a mirror,” she explained.

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“Generation Z … are partly about self-reflection, much more so than their older brothers and sisters, the millennials. They are interested in content that’s fed back to them through themselves.”

It’s important now to note that this session was not an indictment of teens, influencers, TikTok users or Gen-Z in general. In fact, Greer was evidently a huge fan of D’Amelio and this enthusiastic fascination was found among others in the room (many parents of teen TikTokkers themselves).


What Greer wanted us to see was that these savvy content creators have an intelligence all their own, and they will adapt and hone their skills on whatever tool comes next for them. All of this fed into the overall theme of Greer’s leadership message: diversity of intelligence.

“Intelligence is relative,” she explained. “For instance, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, if you give him or her – well, I’m going to say ‘him’ – if you give him a knife and a loincloth and put him in the middle of the Amazon forest and then there is an indigenous mom who walks up to him with her four kids, guess who’s the genius in this situation?”

‘We have to understand how to talk to this generation. We have to understand how to relate to this generation. We have to understand how to intervene with this generation’

How we relate to Gen-Z becomes increasingly important as they begin to join a workforce that stretches for many generations before them, and the multigenerational workplace needs to accept intelligence on an all-ages basis.

“We have to open the doors to people who have other kinds of intelligences, not just the stuff that scores on what we understand. Not just the people who understand how to use the key on the metaphorical executive lift,” urged Greer.

“We’re moving into a world in which people are starting to look at themselves to get answers. They’re using themselves as a measure of things. They’re using their own idea of intelligence as the measure, and we have to understand how to talk to this generation. We have to understand how to relate to this generation. We have to understand how to intervene with this generation.”

This idea of shared intelligence is in the spirit of Future Human, the event set for Dublin in May 2020. As the future shaped by Generation Z moves rapidly towards us, we need them to help us understand what we have never seen before.

“There are intelligences out there that if we don’t know and understand how to engage them, we won’t be able to move forward in the world that’s coming. We just won’t be able to do it,” warned Greer

Future Human is Silicon Republic’s international technology, science and business event celebrating meaning, values and purpose with collaborative, interactive and hands-on experiences. Early Bird tickets for Future Human 2020 are available now.

Editor’s note: Please note that Future Human 2020 has been rescheduled to take place on 29 and 30 October 2020. More details can be found here.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.