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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

The answer is an unequivocal "No."

Here's why I say that: history shows us that EVERY generation has problems with "kids these days."
"Many historians, psychologists, sociologists, and other scholars have documented this seemingly never-ending cycle of generational clashes and the juvenoia that typically accompanies it." -

These examples date back as far as records of social commentary exist. Sometimes quote make it to the present that are wrongfully attributed but, even then, there are quotes that are making it through generations to prove the core point: generational conflict is a stable force.

George Orwell phrased it succinctly: “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

Add to this your own anecdotal evidence of your parents and grandparents complaining about your peers AND your thoughts about the people younger than you and you can see a clear pattern.

This article is another "kids these days" article. It comes in the guise of a technophobic plea against the newest technology. It comes as the most modern conveyance of the ancient distrust of new technology. This dates back at least as far a Socrates, whose opinion on writing we only have because his student, Plato, wrote it down:
[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Since that time every new invention has been the heraldic sign of the end of civilization in one form or another. The printing press, recorded music, the moving pictures, the radio, the telephone, the television, cable television, etc. All of these advancements have been decried by opponents in the adult generation during the time they were being introduced as a means to end society as they know it.

And they were partly right.

Because society as they knew it ended, to be replaced with a new society that embraced the technologies and used them to grow and expand. Where they were wrong was the WAY in which this happened. They believed it would undo civilization but, instead, it pushed it forward.

Move forward to today, and the article I am specifically addressing, and you find ubiquitous information and connectivity. That is what the real phobic concern is here but it is not the real issue at hand. The internet, social networking, and the mobile computational devices to access these nebulous constructs are not the root cause of the issue yet the article is insistent on blaming them.

Quotes such as:

"The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy."


"The more they’d used Facebook, the unhappier they felt, but feeling unhappy did not subsequently lead to more Facebook use."

clearly show the author's decision to blame the smartphones rather than examine the true cause which, in other quotes, she clearly acknowledges could exist:

"Of course, these analyses don’t unequivocally prove that screen time causes unhappiness; it’s possible that unhappy teens spend more time online. But recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness."


" For all their power to link kids day and night, social media also exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out. Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it."


" Shifts in the economy, and parenting, certainly play a role."

and, finally,

" Or some other factor could be causing both depression and sleep deprivation to rise."

So, what do these pieces mean?

The author is indicating that there is a correlative relationship between smartphones, social media, and the declining mental health of the current teenage generation. This is, absolutely, accurate. It also means that the author is acknowledging, but discarding, the idea that this correlation might NOT be causal. That, in fact, the afflicted youth might be driven to the correlated behaviors by other triggering factors.

I believe that the reality lies in the larger picture and not something so simple as "smartphones are killing our kids."

There are countless articles on the state of the economy and how Millenials are killing industry after industry as well as countless articles that proclaim that the Baby Boomers destroyed the future, leaving the youth of today with a barren wasteland to grow their own prosperity in. There are countless articles that highlight the declining power of the working classes' wages in the economy and the declining availability of jobs that can support someone working full-time. There are countless articles that indicate the shifts in policy that have allowed wealth to move into the upper echelon at an ever-accelerating rate (note: the more cash that gets sequestered there the less there is moving around the economy). There are countless articles that compare the historical parallels of pre-economy-driven-revolution scenarios to the current state of our economy.

There are also countless articles on parenting. The article that this is a response to highlights an important aspect of youth life but then, summarily, blames it on the smartphones: independence and non-electronic play. It highlights examples of teens going to the mall in a supervised fashion and outlines, in the words of the kids, that they must check in with their parents constantly. These things are not the fault of the phones: these are the structures of the parents. Children canNOT become autonomous adults if they are never given the opportunity to learn how. If they are constrained in their ability to socialize in person with their friends and in an unsupervised manner.

The problem starts with the parenting. When parents use the screens as placation devices and babysitters they are training the children to replace normal socialization with screen time. They are robbing the children of the ability to explore with their peers in a manner that has limited danger, but some potential for unpleasant consequences. They are, in effect, constraining their children's' world to what they can experience in the borders of the screen. This is not the fault of the screen: it's the methodology. "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" - the screens are a hammer and the world has become nails to the children because the parents have not even shown them that screwdrivers, saws, and everything else even exist.

Feeling left out is a normal part of youth but that, too, is exacerbated by the parenting and further exaggerated by the technology. When children are only allowed to have small gatherings they MUST leave people out. When children are not allowed to go then they MUST be left out. When parents refuse to allow children to spend time with other children without adults present then children get left out. Being left out is a lonely feeling and the social media experience, in which all of one's friends are documenting what they are doing without one, hurts. NOT being allowed to experience the world other than through the screen forces the children to ONLY go to the screen when they are lonely and bored, which makes them MORE lonely and bored. The solution here: adjust the parenting. Create in-person activities. Allow children to mingle in person in both structured and unstructured scenarios and settings. Let them be people.

Now stack, on top of that, the status of the world. When I was a school-aged child it was clear that university was the path to a prosperous future. There was no question about it. But the costs have risen nearly 1000% since that time and effective incomes have risen a mere single percentage point to keep pace. The Return on Investment (RoI) has come into question. University carries a lot of benefits other than the diploma but the justification for the expenditure is becoming less and less solid with each passing year. AND YET, at the same time, more and more jobs want a 4-year degree. Children have to mortgage their future for the CHANCE at a job that was, effectively, handed to my parents and grandparents' generations if they just showed up and worked hard. My grandparents bought their house in cash. My parents were able to pay off their mortgages and student loans. I will, likely, never get clear of my mortgage and student loans. The children today have it much worse and they know it.

The future is bleak: THAT is why kids are depressed. The present it authoritarian: that is why children cannot go anywhere. The present is lonely: that is why children reach out. The present is confinement: that is why the kids turn to screens.

This is not a problem with the screens: it's a problem with US. It's a problem with out culture and our society. It's a problem with our economy and what we are failing to teach our children. It's a problem where our society is now, after thousands of years of society, changing at a pace where we cannot keep up. This is not a problem with technology: it's a problem with our unwillingness to adapt to our surroundings as we change them on ourselves.

Don't blame the screens, unless you have the device turned off and are using it as a mirror: then it is fair to blame what you see.

Refence links:
About Generations -

About Tech -