Connected and Infected
Last year, my son bought his third iPhone. He purchased all of them with his own money. He rarely gets up in the morning without reaching for it. In many ways, it’s his lifeline to the world. We’ve had conversations about how connected he is with everything and everyone. He is part of a generation I call “Generation iY” impacted by iPhones, iPods, iChat, iMovies, iTunes—and the internet in general. They’re the students born from 1990 on. In our focus groups, we’ve heard them say things like:
- My cell phone is an appendage to my body.
- It’s always on; it's like…glued to me 24/7.
- I can’t imagine being disconnected from my friends.
- Without my mobile phone, I wouldn’t survive.
While you and I may say these are overstatements, Generation iY perceives the world this way. Web 2.0 has changed everything for them. It’s the latest iteration of the internet—deemed the real time web by analysts. It’s produced excessive use of PCs or cell phones for quick interaction and constant access to on-line information. This hyper-connectedness is fueled by the rise in social media and made up of quick, short communication and the absence of privacy. More than 4 in 5 U.S. adults online use social media at least once a month, according to a recent Forrester Research report. We tweet, we update our Facebook profile, we text, we post a video on YouTube or a blog on our website. Due to the current obsession with connection, telephone landlines are being impacted. In 2008, 20% of U.S. households were mobile phone only, up from 7% in 2005. At the current rate of growth, the last landline will be cut in 2025. It’s affecting all of us. People, especially youth, just don’t want to disconnect. It’s an infectious behavior that won’t go away anytime soon.
So What’s the Impact?
I took a moment to ponder and research the positive and negative impact of this connectedness. If you are a teacher, coach, administrator, youth worker, parent or employer of young people, I invite you to consider the following outcomes of our connectedness.
The Upside. The Generation iY kids will quickly point out the positive features to their obsession with staying connected. Due to social media connections:
1. Users can stay informed quickly on news. Let’s face it, the reason the world knew what was going on in the Iran election fiasco this year was due to twitter and texts. While there is lots of nonsense being transmitted through social media—it carries important information as well. No one needs to be uninformed.
2. Users are more likely to attend high school and college reunions, due to staying in touch with those who have shared interests. In reality, social media can help people sift through preferences (likes and dislikes) in a fairly short amount of time. It enables relationships and people who are miles apart geographically to feel more like neighbors.
3. Users can upload important information or report crises in an instant. Information that used to take a long time to get around, now can get to the right eyes and ears in real time. News, crimes, discoveries and tragedies can be resolved readily. I read recently of two girls trapped in a sewer tunnel who were rescued because they posted their problem on Facebook, from their phone.
The Downside. Generation iY may or may not see the unintended outcomes of the Web 2.0 world. This is where caring adults must interpret the negatives, and nurture healthy use of social media. Some unhealthy results of this new world are:
1. No quiet time for thinking.
I am deeply concerned about this. There is precious little time in our world for thoughtful reflection. We not only have noise everywhere we go, but today that noise beckons us to interact with it. It is magnetic and addictive. Where do our young people go to experience quiet, private solitude to make sense of the noise and to choose where they must say “no” to all the cries for their attention? Very few of us (young or old) do much thinking for ourselves. Someone else does it and tells us what to think.
2. Emotional intelligence is down.
One of the greatest needs in Generation iY is emotional intelligence, which is the sum total of their self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Why are self-awareness and people skills low? We can delete, block, or log off anytime we don’t like a conversation. Teens who want to break up with a boyfriend, can do it on a text. No skills required. We don’t see what’s happening to us because we feel so “social” but in reality we are getting poorer at people skills.
3. Our self-sufficiency is evaporating.
Because we’re in constant contact with answers, we fail to build any sense of self-sufficiency to solve a problem ourselves. Or…wait on a solution very long. We are used to quick solutions and instant gratification. I wonder if we have an unhealthy dependency on technology. Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. But if it diminishes my ability to be responsible to solve my own problems or take the time to figure things out on my own, it is a mixed blessing at best.
4. Our privacy is diminished.
Due to our over-connection, our sense of personal privacy is lacking. We share everything on our tweets or Facebook page. And we know all about others because they do the same thing. This may not sound devastating, but I believe a lasting, healthy public life is built upon a robust, healthy private life, where I get my bearings and sort out my values. Throughout history, lasting leaders possessed this quality. Today, it is almost non-existent.
As you consider how to lead the young people in your life, be counter-cultural. Embrace their connections, but allow time for personal development. Challenge them to disconnect enough to grow personally. Encourage them to take time for solitude and reflection. Then, when they’re out with people, provide time for face-to-face community. This can be contagious too. It isn’t too late for them to catch a new infection.