The Villain Online
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why and The Infinite Game, had a talk with Inside Quest on what he calls ‘the Millennial Question’. He boils down four characteristics of the millennial generation, which he defines as starting around 1984, with no clear closing date, though we are very definitely at the point where teenagers and even 20-year-olds (at the time, 16-year-olds) are generation Z.
These characteristics — parenting, technology, impatience, and the environment — are to blame for millennial dissatisfaction with their lives, though one gets far more attention in his talk than others: technology. Sure, there is an initial lambast against ‘participation trophies’ (which I don’t remember getting, maybe it was just a millennial thing), and entitled parents that will get anything for their precious babies, but soon everything wraps back round to social media.
The crux of his argument comes fairly early: positive social media interactions give us dopamine, which is, ‘the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble.’ The logic follows that the good feeling is addictive, and those other things are bad to be addicted to, therefore social media is bad to be addicted to. Though an Independent article released in 2019 for national hugging day tells us that hugging releases dopamine, too. Should we regulate how often we hug? I breathe even more than I check my phone! Should we regulate our breathing, Simon?
In making generalisations about a whole generation of people, Simon builds a strawman effigy of young people that exists solely in a position of privilege, and baked into his argument is a neoconservative hierarchy of the biological family over the chosen love of friends. This argument erases the many LGBTQ young people who go online to find a chosen family that may not exist or be open in their small hometown. His argument doesn’t account for young people with disabilities, who for one reason or another find it easier to maintain friendships online than in person. For someone with ADHD, executive dysfunction might make meeting with friends in town difficult and unnecessarily stressful, or someone with depression who can barely bring themself to shower that day. Sharing YouTube videos and GIFs online may be much more within their grasp. Consider the alternative in which that same person ends up just disconnecting from their friends altogether.
“If you’re sitting at dinner with your friends, and you’re texting someone who’s not there, that’s a problem,” Simon says. I’d make the case that texting my mum or spouse isn’t a problem in any situation. Hell, even another friend. If someone cannot handle that they are not the whole centre of your attention, that sounds like a problem with them.
It’s not like these arguments are new, either. The New York Times quoted Margaret Cohen, Professor of French language, literature and civilization, as saying that “[in the 1800s) novel reading was so absorptive, and that was seen as one of its dangers, in that it would divorce you from everyday life.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
So read your news through Twitter, share your stories on Instagram, chat to your friends on messenger. You’ll live to see another day.