Is Your Phone Your Best Friend?Recently I found myself in conversation with the local postman who was delivering the street’s mail. After exchanging a few pleasantries, we quickly got on to the topic of how his job has changed over the last 10 years. He cut straight to the chase, saying that people don’t send letters anymore meaning he now delivers less mail over a larger area. His round has been extended by a few extra kilometres, and considering he gets around on foot it’s quite a bit of walking.
“It’s the Internet,” he said. “Everything’s done online now. I don’t mind; the extra kilometres keep me fit and active”.
It’s no surprise that technology has changed how we communicate, but what is probably not so apparent is how this technology has shaped an entire generation who have known nothing but the Internet. This particular generation has been branded as ‘iGen’. In broad terms, it includes anyone born between 1995 and 2012, although some might say it extends right up to the present.
The term iGen works well as it not only nicely depicts the cultural shift away from GenY (1980-94), but it metaphorically describes in one word the cultural shift from the collective to the individual. Everything now seems to have an ‘i’ or a ‘my’ in front of it – websites like ‘mygov’ and ‘mynrma’, devices like the iPhone, even cars like Hyundai’s iMax and iLoad. It’s a marketing term hard to resist in today’s environment.
So how does this cultural shift and its ensuing technology affect our iGen population? Perhaps the biggest impact has been on com- munication. There’s no doubt it’s changed during the iGen era, but which communication method is best? Ironically, on top of the list is good old face-to-face, one-on-one conversation, then in descending order: face-to-face group discussion; live video conference (like FaceTime); phone call; interactive live email or chat rooms; standard email; text message; personal letter; post-it note; and then the trusty old flyer or poster.
Despite the list, it might be a fair call to say today’s teens are more comfortable talking online and indeed prefer it over talking ‘face to face’; communicating through a screen via social media or a texting app certainly has an appeal.
Professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge is leading the charge in ex- plaining how this has come to be. According to Twenge, it is directly attributed to the smartphone.
The first iPhone hit the stage in 2007; by 2011 they were pretty much mainstream and it seemed like every adolescent had one. The smartphone allowed the net to be accessed anywhere, anytime and on your own. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with keeping up with technology, but it’s the time spent alone on such technology that has created the most concern, and for good reason.
Current research has revealed a steep increase in levels of anxiety and depression when the ownership of smartphones among kids became mainstream around 2011-12. It is important to clarify right here that smartphones or indeed social media do not cause anxiety or depression, but what this research does show
is a direct correlation among our iGen’ers between time spent online alone and levels of anxiety and depression. It’s the link between the two that’s causing the most worry.
Other noticeable differences be- tween iGen and those generations previous are that iGen’ers seem
to have less face-to-face social engagement, appear to be growing up more slowly and are in less of
a hurry to move out. The adult privileges and independence that previous generations craved seem to hold less value in the present, a trend that seems to have gained momentum with the advent of the smartphone, and which appears to be universal among differing cultures no matter what their ethnicity, where they live or their financial standing.
As confident, optimistic and happy iGen’ers seem on Snapchat or some other social platform where everyone’s smiling and taking selfies, there is a real and present undercurrent of vulnerability with kids addicted to their phones, keeping them in a vortex of stimulus from which they can’t escape. As much as technology is part of iGen and indeed everyone’s culture, it’s no secret that those who spend more time interacting with friends in person are happier, healthier and just better off.
So what do we do? Well it’s about balance and moderation. Technology is not the enemy; it’s how we use it. Let’s face it, as appealing as a virtual world can be, the reality is it’s not real. Just ask your local postman.