Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Generation N

The following is an excerpt from a piece written by Dr. Keith Ablow, an American psychiatrist and media contributor.

It so well parallels many of my own beliefs that I will quote it verbatim here:

A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.

Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.  These data are not unexpected.  I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.

On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends.” They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), “speak” in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they “like.”

Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth “following,” as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame.

Using computer games, our sons and daughters can pretend they are Olympians, Formula 1 drivers, rock stars or sharpshooters.  And while they can turn off their Wii and Xbox machines and remember they are really in dens and playrooms on side streets and in triple deckers around America, that is after their hearts have raced and heads have swelled with false pride for “being” something they are not.

These are the psychological drugs of the 21st Century and they are getting our sons and daughters very sick, indeed.

As if to keep up with the unreality of media and technology, in a dizzying paroxysm of self-aggrandizing hype, town sports leagues across the country hand out ribbons and trophies to losing teams, schools inflate grades, energy drinks in giant, colorful cans take over the soft drink market, and psychiatrists hand out Adderall like candy.

Talented, gifted and driven to succeed?  In my personal observations of recent years, the primary talent most Gen-Ys have is inflating claims of personal performance on their CV, which they are then unable to correct the spelling or grammar on because they never bothered to learn the fundamental principles of language.  Possibly due to spending most of their formative period dribbling absolute crap on Facebook or sending as many text messages as was possible.

The need to fit into a clique and be "cool" isn't a new phenomenon, but social media has resulted in the need growing to disproportionate levels, in line with the evaluations of self-worth of the prototype people involved.

Before social media came along, kids still dreamed of being famous rock stars or sports players, the difference was that the cold, hard light of reality knocked it out of them.  Now, the unreal world means that their adolescent little brains don't ever learn the difference between fantasy and reality, generally until well past when it should have dawned.

The video gaming thing is a good example.  Adolescents now grow up in a world where there's effectively no downsides, no repercussions, and if you die then you respawn in a few seconds and the the only penalty is a hit to your stats and having to run in again.  For all the bollocks talked about video game violence by reactionary liberals, I'm actually far more concerned about the attitude that this appears to be breed that there's always going to be another chance, and always be another opportunity, and you don't have to follow the rules, because there's no real repercussions.

Sorry, kids - the world doesn't work that way.  I realise that schools never keep anyone back these days because it might crush your personal development.  I know that everyone gets "participation" awards, because as long as you tried your best, it doesn't matter if your performance actually sucked like a $5 hooker.  (Some of the more physically attractive protagonists may find this a valuable career skill in later life, though.)  And expecting some reasonably civilised behaviour and an attention span greater than a few seconds vanished long ago; your average adolescent is now so constantly ram-fed overstimulation  on a constant basis that it's hardly surprising they need medicating into partial anaesthesia if they haven't seen a glowing screen for ten seconds.

Anyone who doesn't believe this can prove it for themselves with this easy experiment: sit an adolescent in a room with no form of electronics and suggest they read for an hour.  See what happens.

Note: after I wrote that, it did occur to me that one weakness with that experiment is that your average adolescent can read about as well as they can write, which may skew the results.

Ah well, kids.  You'll learn, it's just going to be a very, very rapid descent as your overinflated sense of self importance rapidly deflates and is replaced with some bitter, resentful realisations.  Your world of social media unreality will allow you the escapism to deny it to yourself for some period of time - right up until the cash runs out you realise that flipping burgers is the only skill you have, assuming you can turn up regularly enough not to get fired.

And no, your boss won't friend you on Facebook either, because they understand you're a resource to extract work from.

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