Generation Us and Them.

Us and Them.  The digital divide.  The generation gap.  The age gap.  A sign of our times.  The Net Generation.  Generation Y.  It has always been that way – different generations have gotten different labels.  Now with the widespread use of social media (although, in reality the statistic is that only 23 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet) there is a lot of talk about this notion of “Generation Me” – a narcissistic, self-centered generation.  We used to talk about the Hippies and then the Yuppies (both baby boomers), Generation X and Generation Y and now I think we’ve reverted to talking about the “net” generation.  

One piece of reading material from a Harvard Law prof (John Palfrey) that I appreciate is Born Digital.  At the same time, there are innumerable books coming out on the topic of what I would call “Generation Me” – this notion that the new generation is narcissistic, unempathic and selfish.  I don’t know how much this really differs from the generation of the authors of these books?  Even if the theories hold true – is it their fault?  Having been brought up in a society that is capitalistic, self-involved, with a Judeo-Christian 9-to-5 work ethic, that promotes globalization at the expense of the developing world (in the United States and Canada, that is.)  

There is a large slew of books that I’ve seen in bookstores that deal with this theme.  One of them is called Generation Me, another is called The Narcissism Epidemic, then there’s Educating today’s overindulged youth, another book with a chapter on the hypernarcissism of youth, there are notions that this is coming from social networking websites: feeding on what seems to be an underlying assumption of technological determinism.

Where do these theories stem from?  Is it because Facebook allows you to build a profile primarily based on yourself – your photos – your likes and interests?  What is it about youth today that these authors are calling narcissistic?  I think that  young people have a lot of potential and they can – if properly educated and helped – build a better world than we live in today.  Despite this image of youth as self-centered, attention-starved, celebrity-wannabes on social networking sites – they are not yet adults – they still have a chance to develop good qualities and become good citizens.  They also have the capacity to do a lot of good in the world, with our help.

It’s true that today’s generation is much more “digital” than the one before, but this doesn’t mean that they are fundamentally against the peace and welfare of their own planet.  So no matter which generation we are, whether hippies, yuppies, Gen Xers, Gen Yers, or even part of the new generation (not sure what their pseudonym is) – we all have a role to play to educate children and youth.  I always go back to this ideology of “It takes a village to raise a child.” and think that all of society needs to contribute to guiding children and guiding youth.   The media needs to be conscious of itself, of its own influence and the role it plays in shaping world views and self-images in young people.  It can’t be left up to the Internet or Facebook to raise children and to teach them right from wrong.  On the Internet there is no right or wrong – there are suggestions in fine print.   So before adhering to these popular catch phrases like “Generation Me” and the Narcissistic Generation – maybe it’s best to prevent this narcissism from going any further, or, in other words, prevent history from repeating itself.

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