By 2020, an entire generation will have grown up in a primarily digital world. Computers, Internet, mobile phones, social media—all are second nature to them. Along with this comes their unquenchable need for constant contact with large networks of persons. Generation C, some are already calling it (for “connected”). Or should it be called The Lonely Generation?
Cisco estimates that within five years, there will be 50 billion connected devices, with an accompanying 25% annualized decrease in price to connect.
This directly affects us here in North America, where right now nine of 10 people are Internet users—the largest percentage in the world.
But there is another statistic we shouldn’t overlook.
The National Science Foundation last year reported that unprecedented numbers of Americans are lonely. One in four surveyed said they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs. If family members are not counted, the number doubles to more than half of Americans who have no one with whom to share confidences. The New York Times photo above is a painful portrait of a real family.
Why so lonely, then? Is The C Generation just a dispirited redux of the Fifties Beat Generation?
Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical on the environment, warns that a person dominated by social media and the Internet risks substituting human relationships with virtual ones.
Social media, he writes, can shield us from direct contact with “the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.” The abuse of the new media can cause “a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation.”
The Pope’s analysis echoes a number of psychologists and sociologists, says Dr. Thomas D. Williams.
For example, Dr. Jim Taylor, a psychologist and the author of Raising Generation Tech:
Research shows a significant decline in empathy and an increase in narcissism among young people compared to the previous generation. We can’t determine whether the cause is social media and technology, but it’s occurred pretty much coincidentally with the emergence of the Internet.
Likewise, Dr. Alex Lickerman has called the Internet “an electronic drug that often yanks us away from the physical world.” The problem, he says, “comes when we find ourselves subtly substituting electronic relationships for physical ones or mistaking our electronic relationships for physical ones. We may feel we’re connecting effectively with others via the Internet, but too much electronic-relating paradoxically engenders a sense of social isolation.”
Former presidential speechwriter Janice Shaw Crouse points out that, “In an era of instant communication, some would argue that it doesn’t make sense that people are lonely. Nevertheless, sharing—the antidote to loneliness—is not the same thing as talking.”
Rabbi Daniel Lapin has perhaps the most unsettling analysis, calling The C Generation “orphans in time.”
Today’s generation of young people, he says, is “incapable of integrating their past and their future ... living instinctively in an almost animal-like fashion only in the present.”
He notes that it is virtually impossible, then, to connect time and space in a way that enables them to build their “present.” Thus, they wander aimlessly, without true connections—physically, emotionally or spiritually.
In my next blog, “The Right To Be Happy”
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