There’s a new generation graduating high school and college about to enter the workforce, and we’re a lot different than our predecessors. (I can already hear the Boomers and the Gen Xers bracing themselves).
We’re called iGen, a term coined by Jean Twenge, author of “iGen – Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Underprepared for Adulthood.” (Atria Books, 2017). Other names have been pitched for our generation, born approximately 1995 until roughly 2012, including Generation Z, and Homelanders. We even pitched to call ourselves the Founders, from an MTV survey – although the name has hardly stuck.
iGen’s childhood was marked with the rise of technology in the classroom (think: smartphones) and Facebook was widespread across high school the year we entered it. Having opened to the public in 2006, Facebook hit its popularity peak in 2010 with the release of the movie “The Social Network.” As such, I don’t know a high school experience without social media, which is a slight difference from the Millennials, the generation before them. Millennials were mid high school and college aged when Facebook came out, and therefore had a bit more time with experiencing the rise of social media.
Social media took the world by the storm, shaping culture and leaving an imprint on an entire generation. Waving a banner in the name of social intimacy, apps like Instagram and Snapchat promise to make iGen feel more connected. This promise of connection, regardless of whether or not we actually feel more connected (and the data strongly suggests otherwise) has had a profound influence on how we view much of the world – from lifestyles, to love, to mental health.
Every perfectly captioned mountain picture, promising one’s lifestyle is an allure of adventure, may just be no more than a complicated way to wax poetic. Recent data has emerged that suggest a strong link between phone use, and a decrease in mental health. Jean Twenge (2017) wrote, “The results could not be clearer: teens who spend more time on screen activites are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activites are more likely to be happy.” (p. 77). She goes on to write, “Another study [of adults] found the same thing: the more people use Facebook, the lower their mental health and life satisfaction at the next assessment. But after they interacted with their friends in person, their mental health and life satisfaction improved.” (p. 79).
Is our search for authenticity online the best place to be looking for it? Isn’t our search for connection inside the barricades of social media like looking for a clock in an alligator?
It’s not a surprise that our generation has more anxiety than previous – in Canada alone, more youth (15 to 24) met the criteria for mood disorders and substance use disorders than any other age group (www.statscan.gc.ca). The oldest age group (65 + older) had the lowest rates of all disorders.
That number may be raising because of the small phone we keep tucked in our back pockets.
I’m not arguing for a total ban on technology; there’s little chance that our phones and media devices will be erased from our current society. What I am advocating for is a shift in our values, and in turn those values will come to reflect how we use and interact with media.
We have to value and honestly believe that our human worth is wrapped in Christ and not tied to a portrayal of who we’d like to be online. We are “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20), know that we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9); and “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Our solid understanding must give way to deep spiritual wisdom about the worth and value of human life, and how our identity is shaped and changed when it collides with who Jesus is.
Our value of connection has to be based on Biblical principles. We can’t be sacrificing face to face connection for the clacking of text messages and comments. The book of Acts gives beautiful descriptions of community. “They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”(Acts 2:46-47). We are a people who worshipped and ate together, who lived life alongside one another in harmony. Our faith traditions point deeply these values, and the community that was built was a great strength as the Good News was being spread.
The last point I want to bring up is fear. I don’t feel that I have enough experience or authority to be speaking to this subject, so I will say what I usually say – I am still learning. But I think we have to value fearlessness in our lives. We have to come to the conclusion that fear is not from God (1 John 4:18), and that peace is what God desires for all of us. And even if our values don’t line up with our emotions, we will remember that God works with us in process, that there is always more to our story than what we can see in front of us.
My generation may look a lot different from the ones that have come before them – but which one hasn’t? I have hope for my generation and the ones following. We’ll be okay if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We’ll be more than okay. Men and women who are educated, and wise, strong and compassionate, respectful and giving, and yet firm believers in objective realities and its truth. More than that, men and women who understand the love of God and whose biggest desire is to guide others to it.
This is my hope for my generation, and all of the ones to come.