A look at the many, many ways perpetual Internet immersion is negatively impacting today's young people
The primary problem with the Internet (and I assure you, there are MANY problems with the Internet) is that it’s somehow managed to convince an entire generation of utterly insignificant individuals, for reasons that run the gamut from simple naivete to outright delusion, that they are important.
Through mechanisms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube -- a three-headed hydra of agents tri-handedly responsible for instilling a comedic amount of grandiloquent self-importance in the grey-matter deficient noggins of the Western world’s youth -- we’re watching today’s young people transform into a race-less, gender-less, religion-less, ideal-less blob of apathy and displaced priorities. On Twitter, everyone thinks they’re a comedic genius on par with Richard Pryor -- while, really, they’re just rehashing (and re-hashtagging) the same-old, same-old “frat lit” and Conan O’Brien/Seth McFarland post-abstract nerd-shock humor that was white-turd stale even in 2003. On YouTube, everybody thinks they’re some sort of multimedia cottage industry brand -- think, the Nostalgia Critic or The Angry Video Game Nerd --when the entire site is really nothing more than the intellectually-barren domain of attention whores and social isolates whose mental make-up is most likely an alphabet soup of DSM-V classified-pathologies. And then, there’s Facebook, a self-fellating outlet for insecure egotists to champion their half-hearted social and political causes and/or celebrate the utter mediocrity of their lives, because surely, their 400 or so friends whom they never actually talk to in real life would just LOVE to know their take on the latest viral video or CNN headline.
Ironically, social media has more or less led to a diminishing of both social connectivity and social civility among today’s youth. Instead of actually communicating with people in terms of actual human language, we’re “talking” to each other through links, mass-manufactured “memes” (which, in a twist of fate that would surely make Richie Dawkins proud, have basically come to replace individual thought on the Web) and an infantile, Creolized tongue of geek-speak, misattributed quotes and haphazardly misspelled curse words. That is, if we even make the effort to type out our own words as opposed to simply attaching some animated GIF or YouTube clip as surrogate "opinion." Alike pre-schoolers, the kids of today prefer their personal statements in pictograph form -- all visual, with no room for all of that burdensome critical interpretation stuff.
I’ve already discussed, in depth, how the Internet has turned Gen Y into a bunch of quasi-schizophrenic, overtly-confrontational mush-heads before, so why trudge up the matter once more, you may ask?
Well, there’s this old Latin term called “panem et circenses,” which you’ve probably heard before, if not in the texts of Juvenal, than probably in “The Hunger Games” or something else equally stupid. In essence, what the term refers to is a sort of “synthetic pleasure” that’s supposed to offset more pressing social or economic problems in a culture. Back in the days of ancient Rome, when they said “bread and circuses,” they really meant bread and goddamn circuses; these meager handouts and trifling spectacles that were -- intentionally, unintentionally, it really makes no difference -- designed to get people to take their minds off just how crappy the world around them was. I mean, political leaders were corrupt, classism was rampant and economic stability was about as widespread as Taco Bells in Darfur, but hey -- at least we got to eat spinach pies and watch acrobats potentially fall to their death every now and then.
So, uh, in case you’re not good with making inferences, that whole bread and circuses bullshit is pretty applicable to modern U.S. society. In the aftermath of an economic meltdown, millions of young folks found themselves staring down lives that were devoid of things that had any real value -- as in, careers, or sustainable finances, or “a place to sleep and eat stuff.” Now, instead of rallying together under a common cause of rectifying those social problems -- i.e., pressuring social leaders to clamp down on the financial institutions and the complacent politicos that were at least halfway responsible for blowing up the economy -- we instead submerged ourselves into the wanton banality and superficial activism of the World Wide Web to placate our worries.
So, in addition to the trifecta of inflated self-significance, a correlated breakdown in civility and the diminishment of actual human social interaction, we also find ourselves hurdling headlong into convergence with another three-headed, Internet-bred terror -- that being a separate trifecta of sloth, cruel pseudo-conviction (after all, ours is a culture that has smarmily embraced irrelevant trash like “Sharknado” and “My Little Pony” until they’ve become bona-fide pop cultural forces) and a perpetual (albeit 100 percent false) sense of social accomplishment.
Oh, it gets worse. Thanks to mobile technologies, all six of those incredibly negative cultural traits can be obsessed over and re-propagated 24 hours a day. There literally isn’t a moment in the average young person’s life where he or she isn’t virtually connected -- and thusly, completely enmeshed -- in the wholly contemptible virtual culture that has already become the predominant hallmark of our generation.
As technology progresses, and its impact on youth becomes even more pronounced than it already is, there’s really only two probable outcomes staring us in the face; in one scenario, the youth of the not-too-distant future become completely absorbed in the online world they visit (to the point where they consider the worlds of Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to constitute a more important facet of existence than the actual world around themselves) and an alternate future where kids becomes so de-individualized in a uniform Internet culture that they become unable to function as individuals in the off-line world at all.
Completely delusional narcissism, or the complete cultural retardation of an entire generation; it’s either one or the other, or an unsightly mishmash of the two. The social ramifications, clearly, could be disastrous for the whole of civilization, potentially leading to a sociopath-filled society that’s functionally incapable of living independent lives.
Of course, I’m not calling for the complete abolishment of the Internet -- that’s just stupid. What I AM calling for, however, is more tempered usage of the Internet, especially for today‘s young people -- a generation that was literally BORN into the Web.
You know, maybe spending 11 hours a day in front of an Internet-powered, liquid crystal display screen ISN’T the healthiest of lifestyle choices, physically OR mentally. Maybe, just maybe, we would be happier as individuals if, for just a day or two a week, we completely remove ourselves from the pell-mell groupthink of the Internet Culture Industry and frolic about in that thing we used to call "the real world."
The Internet, contrary to the beliefs of many youngsters, ISN’T a replacement for reality. We either yank the Smartphones out of their hands and get them in touch with their own humanity, or else we’re guaranteeing a cataclysmic future for not only our kids and grandkids, but our own asses, too.
The Redditors of today are the people entrusted to run America fifty years from now. In all honesty, leaving the nation’s brain trust in their hands is a scenario more frightening than the prospects of nuclear war. After all…there’s a chance I could survive World War 3.