Next Generation Technology

I don’t mean to sound like an old woman yelling ‘get off my lawn.’

But even as a young person, in the digital age, it doesn’t take much to feel outdated. In some ways, though, perhaps that is a good thing.

One of our most poignant topics of discussion in seminar today was the subject of internet usage and mental health; what does the internet do to our psychology as it becomes ever more integrated into our lives. This is something I find myself quite frequently entranced by. Even though I am extremely young, I am watching my juniors grow up in a digital world that I entered only as a teenager. Back when I was a kid, as they say, I didn’t have a smart phone until eighth grade.

There are many ways I consider today’s kids to be in a different situation than my own, and yet there are some ways in which I think fears for the safety of their young souls are overblown.

First, my worries.

I grew up without constant connectivity, and I like to think that I still carry the ability to be on my own. I am more than happy to  set my phone to ‘do not disturb’ and to be unbothered for several hours. And yet, I compulsively check my email for fear of missing an opportunity or event that I would want to go to. Does that undermine my belief in my ability to be alone? And what does it mean for the kids who grew up even more connected than I am?

Secondly, I fear for the future of self-esteem. When I was growing up, I had fairly little exposure to idealized standards of beauty and glossy magazine perfect lives. My television diet mainly consisted of cartoons with progressively more raunchy themes as I grew older, and if I saw a model, it was likely a limited exposure as I waited in line at the grocery store. As I grew older, broadened my television diet, and started to surf the internet, that changed. I started to see a great deal more of the idealized female form and idealized lifestyles in everything from advertisements to movies to my occasional visits to women’s magazines. But as I think about today’s kids, I know that my exposure to instagram-constant levels of curated lives and bodies didn’t begin until early high school. Even then, I think some of my drop in self esteem around that period was probably attributable to the new content exposure. What can we say for today’s pre-teens, who are bombarded by these messages beginning in early middle school?

And third, I worry for the future of privacy. It seems in our modern era that the younger you are, the less you fear for the safety of your data, and the more you are willing to share online. I am definitely more willing to put myself on the web than many older people, but I stop far short of much of the sharing that is done by many of my peers, and I’m even further from what younger internet users find acceptable to post. However, as we’ve seen with Facebook and Linkdin, once sharing at a certain level reaches some critical mass in society, sharing becomes almost obligatory, and those without Facebooks (like myself) can find certain tasks, like scheduling, more of a struggle. Will the privacy of the older internet users be eroded as the younger generations give it up willingly?

But some concerns, I think, are overblown. Namely concerns about parental monitoring and what children will ‘get up to’ online. Certainly kids have new ways to be secretive; deleted search histories and fake instagram accounts. But as long as parents inform their children about being physically safe online, I don’t believe that there is a great deal of difference between the the secrets I kept as a teen and the secrets kept by today’s kids. The only change is the move from a paper to digital diary- and there the problem lies not with the secrets that are kept, but that the secrets stay safe, and the risks of digital diaries to, as I mentioned before, privacy.

In sum, I’m intrigued and frightened to see what the future of the modern digital native looks like. As today’s teens outpace college students and generations become shorter and shorter, I worry that I myself will be obsoleted by the pace of technology change, and that those same changes will irrevocably damage our fragile human psyche. But there is hope, at least on the former front; smartphone adoption is rising among those 65 and older (1). Maybe there’s a future even for an old lady like myself.

 

1- http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/17/tech-adoption-climbs-among-older-adults/

2 Comments »

  1. Jim Waldo

    November 21, 2017 @ 2:51 am

    1

    Ogg…this does make me feel old.

    When I was in middle school and high school, I was pretty much raised free-range. I had to be home for dinner and certain chores, but most of the time I was on my own and not connected nor reachable. I tried this with my own children, but things were different then, and far more different now.

    I do worry about the inability to be alone, and simply listen to what is happening in your own head. I occasionally forget my cell phone, and like the solitude even that gives. And I miss the times I would, in my earlier days, go off camping by myself in the mountains or deserts for a number of days and see no one. Learning to listen to what is in your own head is hard, but useful. I hope that the current generation of students isn’t missing out on this.

  2. profsmith

    November 22, 2017 @ 2:48 am

    2

    I want to echo what Jim said. My childhood was radically unsupervised in comparison to today’s children, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary. In many ways, I felt I was better supervised than some of my friends.

    I highly recommend PMO … Purposefully Missing Out. Yea, I made up the acronym, and I don’t expect it to stick. I turned off email on my cellphone during my honeymoon a few years ago (and no social media). It was amazing. Sure, I missed out on all kinds of news and important events in the lives of my family and friends, but my wife and I made our own wonderful memories. Now, I try to find weekends at the lake when I can do the same thing. Life becomes vivid. Missing out can be worth it.

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