I’m Gen Z. Here’s how I’m escaping my phone this summer.

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It’s 10 p.m. and I have been scrolling for a half-hour on TikTok. I scroll by commentary on Taylor Swift’s outfits from the Eras tour. Then a passionate critique of the Met gala. Scroll. A Greek salad recipe — save it to make later. Scroll. Footage of the protests about the war in Gaza, at my alma mater, Emory University. The comments are a barrage of emphatic agreement or repulsed dissent. 

A text comes in, a group chat from friends about the weekend’s plan to visit an art market. I click the link to buy my ticket but I’m interrupted by a news notification: The presidential candidates will debate each other. How will I watch? I don’t have cable. I swipe away. 

My sister sends me a reel on Instagram. I reply with a heart. Now I’m on Instagram and I get an ad for summer outfits from Amazon which reminds me of the art market. What was I doing? Buying my ticket. Ugh, $26? Plus parking? Another text comes in, and a notification from Duolingo reminding me to keep my streak alive. Did I reply to that email from earlier? It’s 10:35.  

I’m a member of Gen Z, and this is my nightly ritual.

The average member of Generation Z — those of us who are between ages 12 and 27 today — receives over 200 notifications per day and spends 28.5 hours a week on devices. According to research firm dcdx, we’re not digital natives, but digital captives — and 60 percent of us can’t go four hours offline without feeling uncomfortable. 

And yet, most of us are also uncomfortable on our devices. What used to be a source of connection, entertainment and information has now become an assault of ads, algorithmic recommendations and clickbait headlines — not to mention the emotional whiplash that accompanies each scroll. 

We’re seeing news about horrific wars overseas and the presidential election between, at best, home decor tips and recipes and, at worst, meaningless lip sync videos and SHEIN hauls. The sheer speed of online life today leaves many Gen Z-ers wondering if anything we just saw was real — let alone helpful. 

Time and attention are our currency, and brands, apps, and platforms are willing to invest big dollars to reach young people. But many of my peers are becoming resistant to advertising, influencers and “hot takes.” Young people are pushing for regulation, banding together to block celebrities, and taking up the “de-influencing” trend, which encourages not buying products shared online. You can even drop 50 bucks on a “brick” that can lock and unlock different apps on your phone, in an attempt to just stop the noise. 

Who can help? An unexpected ally in this fight comes from institutions that have been around through literal Civil War and exist in nearly every community in the United States: museums.  

Museums take a different approach to sharing information, and it’s a life raft in this unrelenting sea. They go slow, insist on nuance, and avoid online discourse. This can make museums seem out of touch. Part of my work with Made By Us, a nationwide coalition of history museums, is helping these institutions get better at social media and responding to the news. 

Museums aren’t always good at this. That’s because they follow procedures that are decidedly off-trend in our rapid online world. Claims must be fact-checked and then fact-checked again. Arguments are written by an expert who obsesses over every word, considering how her writing might affect people from all different backgrounds. One-sided opinions are not allowed without balance. 

In contrast to what we see online, information from museums is careful. It’s thoughtful. It’s accurate. It takes time. It invites you to make up your own mind. The result? Museums are some of our most trusted institutions. And I don’t feel like having a panic attack when I visit one. 

Museums are far from perfect institutions, and have struggled to represent all voices and stories fairly. Many have worked to correct harmful practices and policies. But the pace and care of this work stands out in our fast world.

For example, the new First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City was 30 years in the making. The Museum of Us in San Diego took years to consult community stakeholders, think through a collections strategy, and were among the earliest institutions to repatriate artifacts. Museums aren’t on the sidelines either; they’re capturing and collecting experiences and artifacts, from campus protests to COVID-19. 

It’s true that museums can do more to keep up with a 24-hour news cycle, but many of us are tired of 24-hour-a-day demands on our attention. If you’re looking to escape the barrage of online life, while still engaging with the issues, check out your local museum — with your phone in airplane mode.

Cameron Katz is the head of content and partnerships at Made By Us,.

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