Chaos in the chat: a faulty livestream highlights Gen Z humor


Gretchen Highberger

Students in Ms. Samuelson’s AP Literature class try to watch the final volleyball game on the Iowa PBS live stream but find themselves absorbed in the live chat instead.

Gretchen Highberger, Copy Editor

Gen Z notoriously posses a sense of humor other generations consider strange, stupid or innappropriate. Having grown up in a world of anonymous digital communication, today’s teenagers feel comfortable joking about anything with anyone, even strangers in a YouTube chat. 

On the day of the girls’ volleyball final between PV and North Liberty, the halls of PV were noticeably much less congested, as many students had made the trip to Xtream Arena in Coralville to cheer on PV in person. Some classes had as few as four or five students, especially classes taken mostly by juniors and seniors. 

Senior Riley Asselin is a student in many elective classes mostly taken by upperclassmen. “My smallest class was about 5-8 people compared to around 20 usually,” she said. Senior Alyssa Gauss observed the same emptiness. “I would say no more than half of the students were there in most of my classes,” she said. 

Those who did not travel to the final game supported from PV’s classrooms. Many teachers adjusted plans to accommodate the high number of absences and the desire of students and staff alike to watch the game. Instead of being introduced to new material, students received work days or study halls, completing assignments while the game was streamed at the front of the room via Iowa PBS.

At least, classrooms tried to stream the game. 

Due to technical difficulties, the streaming of the game was delayed until after the first set had finished. While PBS resolved the issue, the chat exploded with messages from would-be digital spectators looking for entertainment.

Viewers waiting for the livestream to start on PBS’s TV channel were treated to Sesame Street, the program PBS was supposed to replace with the volleyball stream. One user provided sarcastic comments about everything he had learned from Elmo, such as that cashews grow on trees. 

Then, as it became apparent that the game might not be available to stream for a while, the irritation morphed into acceptance. 

Students who did not attend the game in person, but still wanted to feel involved and supportive, had two options: allow the fear-of-missing-out turn into actual missing out, or create an experience of their own. They chose the latter, interacting with one another in the chat in an attempt to turn a frustrating situation into a laughable moment. 

“I thought the chat was entertaining because of all the random comments and conversations going on,” Gauss explained. “We got Elmo updates, someone named Justin giving us consistent score updates, arguments about who would win the game, and even some debates between Dave and David Baxter. Some of the founding fathers were there at one point, and some graduated seniors showed up too.” 

While the chat had high school students laughing away the FOMO, other viewers weren’t as amused by Gen Z’s antics. Gauss attributes the conflict to what she calls a “growing general humor gap”.

Tech-savvy Gen-Z quickly found other ways to get game updates, such as Twitter and the livescore board linked on the IGHSAU website. Some users helped out the older people in the chat, who hadn’t figured out how to find the score elsewhere, by periodically posting score updates. 

However, these updates were rendered ineffective because of the sheer volume of chat messages posted by high school students, many of which were meant to simply add confusion to the chaos. From jokingly referencing real athletes in the context of other sports to asking “what set” over and over, the desire of humor of young people to have a good time conflicted with the desire of others to simply know the score. 

Asselin found the spam to be immature and unhelpful. “There were people making up stories about the game or asking about class work when they could have texted someone,” she said. “The score would get hidden and people would not be able to find the score in the comments.”

One user questioned why the chat trolls didn’t get a job. Another used all-caps to plead for the spam to stop.  

These messages had no impact. Gen Z continued to create a chaotic, random, hilarious (at least to them) conversation, leaving no choice for all other generations to take part in the joke, too, or continue to futilely plead with strangers set in their comedic ways. 

For better or worse, Gen Z has a distinct sense of humor, one they stick by even under criticism. At times this humor can be interpreted as disrespect, but Gen Z always leaves a choice: get angry, or simply embrace it and join in?