The High-Five Will Die With Gen Z

Gen Z is chock-full of gestures. From helicopter hands to “ice in my veins,” the next generation has created quite the catalog of recognizable moves. Teens and young adults have also loudly rejected what’s decidedly out of trend and laid to rest social norms that no longer serve them. One common gesture may be next.

The high-five.

The first known high-five dates back to 1977 when Los Angeles Dodgers teammates celebrated with the gesture, then when members of the Louisville Cardinals men’s college basketball team did the same in in 1978, according to BBC America. The move, widely accepted as a celebration between two individuals, is more casual than a handshake and far less intimate than a hug. Congratulatory or greeting high-fives between acquaintances or strangers are commonplace in certain American social settings.

That is, until they weren’t. The COVID-19 pandemic caused friendly physical interaction to come to a screeching halt. The practice of touching (or slapping) palms with others was replaced with elbow bumping, waving, and above all else, hand washing. Older students had to relearn interaction with imposed six-foot distances in schools–if they were present in classrooms at all– and other younger students’ first introduction to socialization was under brand new parameters. Though gestures of affection like hugs may continue for kids in the safety of their homes, it’s hard to imagine the next generation will carry on a public gesture that’s been outright banned for two years and counting.

Even if Gen Zers were able to high-five, that doesn’t ensure that they would. The generation that is rapidly redefining fashion trends, technology and activism is also transforming social interaction. Teens have made cringe content viral on TikTok as a way to shame actions or speech that is in one way or another embarrassing, off-putting or inconsistent with what’s immediately cool. Cringey things are also often far from relatable, a quality that is high-priority for Gen Z’s attention span. Communicating with relevant internet humor rather than physical touch can achieve relatability in a way that the high-five, meant for all ages, cannot.

For example, responding “Sheesh!” to your friend through a Zoom window has a targeted effect on a young person’s peers while mitigating transmission of germs (which is consistent with discourse about empathy during the pandemic widely supported by Gen Z). Pop culture humor, which today relies on someone being up to speed on the hour’s hottest meme, is sure to keep parents out of the loop.

Youth of Gen Z have often called Gen X the “Karen generation,” referring to the outbursts of random hostility from middle-aged white women that too often steals headlines. While it’s well-documented that young adults tend to loathe their parents’ generation, Karens are the antithesis of Gen Z’s image, both unkind and uncool. With this in mind, it may now be considered inappropriate to initiate contact with someone without asking in COVID times. Social anxiety among young adults continues to rise and Gen Z’s laser focus on mental health has encouraged young people to lay out their personal boundaries; platonic touching may be off limits. Moreover, the prospect of being left hanging with an incomplete high-five is nothing short of humiliating. Combined with its potential corny factor, high-fives stack up to be a dated gesture for teens and young adults.

Patrick Warburton’s Seinfeld character David Puddy overuses the high-five. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character Elaine said the move was stupid.

With quirks of generational gaps more rigidly defined than ever, watching women of a certain age interact with one another is nothing short of sociological. I remember feeling like I was in on the biggest secret when I became old enough to drink and gossip with my aunts after dinner at family gatherings. The way middle-aged women joke around with each other has its own flow of conversation and humor. One quirk of older women’s conversation is the high-five. When their girlfriend (translation: Gen X’s “bestie”) says something really funny, a woman may cackle and offer a her hand.

Beyond sportsmanship or celebration, older women seem to use high-fives as a way to communicate their agreeance. Good one! and I heard that! or I know that’s right! can be boiled down to an extended front-facing palm. It’s extra points if they interlock fingers with you for a lasting moment after the fact.

Kandi Burruss and Brandy Norwood high-five on Watch What Happens Live (Photo: Charles Sykes/Bravo)

The quirk is universal beyond the everyday layperson. Prime examples of this gesture pop up on nearly every Real Housewives episode in existence. At any sort of dinner with wine and shady conversation involved, viewers can count on Lisa Rinna to high-five the RHOBH ladies after saying something hilarious and/or uncalled for. You can almost hear the laughter in this famous GIF of RHOA‘s Kandi Burrus and Phaedra Parks connecting hands. It’s safe to say the high-five is certifiable auntie behavior. Considering the date of the gesture’s conception, the high-five may well be Gen X’s own viral TikTok move that stuck.

The decline of the high-five’s prevalence is beyond mere observation. The CDC remains firm in its social distance recommendations as the Delta variant rages across the United States. The germy, business-formal handshake is also facing an uncertain future in COVID times, with countless companies’ move to fully remote work squashing the need for physical contact completely. The high-five may be next to go extinct as the arenas where it is most used (sports, schools, child care) have also been forever changed. Beyond public health recommendations, teens’ digitally-anchored interaction of today hardly resembles that of yesteryear. The high-five, a silly, albeit comforting gesture done by everyone’s mother and her friends, could easily go by the wayside.