Thursday, August 31, 2017

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Have you ever driven through a neighborhood on a beautiful night and wondered where all the kids are?  How come they aren't outside riding bikes, jumping rope or playing kick the can all together?

For those of us who grew up in the 70's and 80's it seems that's about all we did!  We played street hockey, built tree forts, built jumps for our bikes and broke our arms, played hockey on the pond all day long until it was too dark to see the puck, dug snow tunnels in the massive piles left by the plows, etc....

Today's kids don't need to take such risks of being outdoors playing and learning how to get along with their neighbor kids.  Many are content to stay in and interact on their smartphones while SnapChatting and Instagraming the days away.

Remember, this is the FIRST TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY that technology like this has ever come along.

One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”

Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

Even when a seismic event—a war, a technological leap, a free concert in the mud—plays an outsize role in shaping a group of young people, no single factor ever defines a generation. Parenting styles continue to change, as do school curricula and culture, and these things matter. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.


Hmmmm....he has NEVER seen anything like it!

I remember a Star Trek episode where the crew of the Enterprise all received some new technology from an alien planet they had landed on.  They got some special glasses that projected some type of game directly into their brains.  They started off enjoying it...but soon they were addicted...and ONLY the people who had never put on the glasses could actually see the damage that was happening. Inter-personal interactions slammed to a halt on the Enterprise as people just sat by themselves mesmerized by the projections that were being sent to their brains.  And when the captain attempted to intervene and put an end to it the anger went to Defcon 10 and almost destroyed their mission.

As I remember that episode, today it almost seems prophetic.

Look around you today and notice how people walking their dogs are looking at their phones.  Go to a soccer game and notice how many people around you are staring into their phones while the game is going on.  Look at your own kids. Look at ourselves!

It seems that this nation is being set up for something that won't end well.

Hat tip to Tim E.


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