Montecito teen aims to change world with newsletter, book
Olivia Seltzer was 12 years old when she decided she needed to change the world.
“It was the day after the 2016 election, and for the first time in my life, I saw what was happening in our government was deeply personal to me and everyone else at my school,” said Olivia, who was then a student at Santa Barbara Junior High School.
But to change the world, she realized she had to understand what the major problems were.
“This was very frustrating because traditional media is primarily created by older people who don’t have younger readers in mind when writing the news. Try watching the news, and you’ll see ads for things like fighting hair loss — not really an issue for Generation Z,” said Olivia, a recent Santa Barbara High School graduate who is headed for Harvard University in the fall.
One evening in January 2017, she went to her room in the Montecito home she shares with her parents, Dana and Aaron Seltzer and younger brother Oscar, and spent the next few hours researching the news and rewriting it in a way that spoke to Generation Z, who are now between ages 10 and 25.
“A week later, I bought the domain name, the cramm.com, with money from my 13th birthday,” Olivia told the News-Press. “The name ‘The Cramm’ came from cramming the news into one newsletter and also referred to the way students cram the night before a test, but with The Cramm, they wouldn’t need to cram for the news.”
A week after that, she hit “send” on the first of what became hundreds of newsletters detailing the news of the day in a language that appeals to her contemporaries.
“They are five-minute reads about events that have happened in the previous 24 hours,” Olivia told the News-Press.
She continues to send the newsletters via the website, email, text, social media and podcast from Monday through Friday, and in addition, she has written the newly released book, “Cramm This Book: So You Know WTF Is Going On in the World Today” (Philomel Books, $17.99).
“I wrote the book because we can’t solve the world’s problems if we don’t understand them,” she said. “And it’s important to realize that it’s all about connections. Events of the past century are connected to events that are happening today.”
Which is why she divides the book into four sections: The Isms and the Phobias, which include Sexism, Racism, Nationalism and Antisemitism: The Wars, including World War II, The Cold War and The Israel-Palestine Conflict; The Movements, including Women’s Suffrage, The Hippie Movement and The Arab Spring; and The Disasters, including Oil Spills, Recessions, Wildfires and Diseases.
Olivia pointed out that one of the defining characteristics of her generation is “a sense of urgency because we have faced crises with global issues such as climate change, insurrections and school shootings. We are the last line of defense to solve them.
“At the same time, we grew up with more tools and the ability and power to cope with them. For example, when I created The Cramm newsletter, I had the computer to build the website, and I was able to distribute them throughout the world completely by myself,” said Olivia, who plans to major in political science at Harvard and then expand The Cramm into a media empire for young people.
She has written more than 500 newsletters for The Cramm, spoken at NATO Engages and the IFTF Summit, been featured in NPR, Teen Vogue, TODAY, The Economist and Forbes (among others) and been selected as a Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leader and a recipient of the Diller Teen Award.
She also has traveled to different college campuses, starting a grassroots movement to educate the world’s future.
In answer to the question how does someone so young become so wise, she responded, ”I grew up with parents who always treated my brother and me with respect. They included us in all major decisions. Our voices were heard. This is a big part of what shaped me as a person.”