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In the past 2 decades, technology has revolutionized how children are raised but now they have found a way to use its powers against us, and the consequences are mind-boggling.
My last article concluded with this gnawing uncertainty:
“Maybe along with the invention of social media creating a different kind of person; one that doesn’t want to deal with the complexities of the outside world; one too preoccupied with the sheer intensity of everything around them especially if it can’t be explained in a two-minute-or-less video; one who was raised with parents who just consume mass media all day on TV… Maybe those kinds of people are who are running our modern-day Ministry of Truth.”
You may be asking yourself who are these different people that I was talking about. Put simply they are the minority of people who have had social media THEIR ENTIRE LIFE. I’m just old enough (young enough?) to have faint memories of growing up with no internet at all, conceivably the last generation to have these.
My early childhood mostly consisted of playing with games and toys in my room and going outside to play with my friends. I ventured into parks and made forts, rode my bike to playgrounds and avoided the scary 8th graders. I remember a lot of outside time and sure there was TV time too, but I’d usually go to school, come home and watch TV/do homework until dinner and then I could finally go outside to play until the sun came down. The TV was there to fill in the gaps but the main adventure of the day was going bike riding in the evenings.
It wasn’t until I was 9 years old until we got dial-up internet and even then my mom put a limit to 30 minutes a day. When I was eleven I got my first computer in my room with DSL internet. I got my first “dumb” pay-as-you-go Nokia phone when I was thirteen and my first cell phone plan when I was sixteen. I didn’t get my first smartphone, the iPhone 3G, until I turned eighteen.
The first social media I knew was when I was in grade 9, about fifteen years old, around 2005 this website called Nexopia became really popular locally around Alberta, Canada but spread out to most of Canada by one point. This was before people found out about Myspace, which eventually became the cool thing to make a profile on until Facebook became popular around 2007—the year I was 17 and graduated high school. I guess I could also consider MSN messenger, ICQ and Yahoo chat rooms as social media, however, I didn’t experience those until I was eleven or twelve—in 2001 or 2002.
I remember sending my first emails vividly… It was this big event actually. My caretaker sat me down in front of this big bulky computer and told me to type a letter for my mom, who was working overseas at the time, just like I would if I were sending it in the mail. I was absolutely amazed by how all of this information—which felt like a lot, I mean come on, an entire letter?!—was going to just get to the other side of the world in an instant. I asked how long it would take to get to my mom, she snapped her fingers and said, “just like that.”
And just like that, every kid born after 1995—them then being around 10 years old by 2005 when Facebook starts getting big—doesn’t have a childhood like the rest of us remember. I’m twenty-nine now and I don’t have any children. My best friend, however, has a 5-year-old daughter and I’ve watched her grow up, basically, every single day since she was born in 2013. What I’ve seen is her being raised in a totally different and seemingly better way than what her mother or I had, but something is not right.
Her early childhood—instead of watching a little bit of TV, playing with toys and games and wanting desperately to go outside to mingle with the other neighbourhood kids—consists of watching every children’s show over and over on Netflix, watching toy reviews and game reviews on YouTube (by other kids who are spoiled by their parents with cameras and memory cards) or she looks towards an adult to entertain her. Maybe the times have changed and this made the cities rougher and different now children aren’t as safe to go to the playground as they were in the 90’s—that’s totally possible that kids today are surrounded by so much danger that they spend increased time at home than we did.
While that sort of was the case regarding the murder rate in my hometown of Edmonton over the past 3 decades—with it declining slightly in the mid-90’s, jumping up and down, and in the end not really changing for better or worse—I don’t think it is what is causing the mass anxiety to go outside. In 2017 Mainstreet Research surveyed over 2,000 Canadians who voted that Edmonton (which is Canada’s 5TH largest city by population) is Canada’s 6TH safest city. “57 per cent of Canadians believed Edmonton was safe while 33 per cent of those surveyed said it was unsafe. Ten per cent of people were unsure.” Comparing this to 2016 when the city got 11TH place, possibly this is a sign that things are getting safer and not more dangerous?
Then that doesn’t make any sense as to why kids are wanting to stay home more than before. I should point out now that I understand this is kind of biased in one way because I’m looking at this one girl’s situation to judge a whole generation of young people but I’ve seen a lot of other kids in her daycare being raised the same way, with stressed out, overworked parents—which is the second way this is biased because the demographic I’m concentrating on here has a slightly higher population density (being in the inner-city/downtown area) than the fringe of suburbia (further from downtown area) that I grew up in.
I realize my friend’s daughter is only 5, I could be expecting too much from her at too young an age but I was that age once and so were you, and I hope that you can remember (like I do) your grandparents telling you stories of them having to travel, at 5 years old or so, to and from school which was several kilometres away by foot—a practically alien concept to any kid that’s growing up now.
The important thing to grab on to here with these examples is that we wanted to be outside, we wanted to socialize with other kids before and after school, and on weekends. Kids these days are different because they have had technology replace those wants and therefore they don’t have that desire we had to socialize, play games or make real-life connections with each other. Of course, there are exceptions to every case but this phenomenon is more prevalent in the tradition of raising children than most of us would think.
The reason why the youth today are more sensitive and staying at home more often is because of the new technology that’s available to them; the smartphones, tablets, and computers; the internet; and the websites which attract them in with their customizable profiles and their relatable child star-vloggers. Perhaps these kids have figured out a new game to play? One that isn’t played with each other in conventional terms but one that’s designed to have them against each other and everyone else that they think is holding them back.
This quote is from the Joe Rogan Experience #1221 with Johnathan Haidt, “a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.” (Follow along starting at 5:23 of this video.)
Johnathan Haidt: “I think the way to make sense of all of this is you always have to look at what game is being played. Human beings evolved in small-scale societies, we have all kinds of abilities to function in those small-scale societies. One of those is religious worship. We’re very good at making something sacred and circling around it. Another is war. We’re very good at forming teams to fight the other side. We love that so much we create sports and video game battles with team versus team.
So, there’s all the different games you can play and the truth-seeking game is a really special one and a weird one, and we’re not really good at it as individuals. And in my view, the genius of a university is that it takes people, puts them together in ways where each person—like scientists aren’t these super rational creatures that are looking to just confirm their own ideas. No, we’re not looking—we want to prove our ideas, we love our ideas but a university puts us together in a way which you are very motivated to disprove my ideas and I’m motivated to disprove yours.
You put us together, we cancel out each other’s confirmation biases (the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.) So the truth-seeking game is a very special game that can only be played in a very special institution with special norms. Okay, so, we’re doing this for, you know, my whole time in academia, I started grad school in 1987 at the University of Pennsylvania and then just in the last few years it’s like some people are playing this really different game.
It’s like if I’m playing tennis and I hit the ball to you, like we’re in a seminar class: I give you a question, I challenge you. You come back and we go back and forth, and in the process, we learn. That’s kinda like playing tennis. So I’m doing this and then suddenly it’s like someone tackles me. Like what? You don’t do that in tennis, ‘no, no, but they’re playing football, you see?’ And in football, it’s a much rougher game and you’re trying to destroy the other side… I mean, not really in football but I’m saying…
And so, as norms of combat come in—what I mean by that is political combat—as some people within universities see that what we are doing here is not seeking truth, we’re trying to fight fascism or we’re trying to defeat conservatism or we’re trying to fight racism or whatever, some sort of political goal, and these games are completely incompatible.
So that is why this madness has erupted where you see some professors saying something, maybe it’s a little provocative—going back to Socrates, that was kinda the point was to provoke. And you see these bizarre reactions, emotional reactions, groups organized to demand that a professor be fired because we’re playing different games.”
Joe Rogan: “Yeah, how did this start? Cause it seems like there has to be an event or something, or a trend?”
Johnathan Haidt: “So the book I just put out in September, with Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind…”
Joe Rogan: “Yeah. I read the first chapter of that…”
Johnathan Haidt: “…The key thing is that book, The Coddling of the American Mind, was something that we wrote because Greg began observing this weird stuff happening in universities in 2014. It all starts in 2014. Most of your listeners have heard about: safe spaces, microaggressions, bias response teams, trigger warnings; All that stuff. That stuff didn’t exist before 2014, it just begins creeping in then and kinda blows up in 2015. And so, our whole book is an explanation of why, why did this happen.
And so, to your question about, ‘was there an event?’ Our answer is there are six different causal threats, there’s like all these social trends, some going back to the ’80s and ’90s that came together around 2014 so that students are a little different, and then there are certain forces acting on them that are different. And so you get this weird new game. You get this explosive mix.
You get students who are actually very drawn to grievance studies. And so, very briefly, it’s things like rising political polarization—so, left and right never particularly liked each other but in the ’70s and ’80s, if you look at surveys done of how much they hate people on the other side, it’s not that intense. It begins going up in the ’80s and especially after 2000, it’s going up very steeply.
At the same time, university faculty, who have always leaned left throughout the 20th century, but was only a lean and in the ’90s it begins to shift much further left so that now faculties—especially in the social sciences and humanities—are pretty purified, they’re overwhelmingly on the left.
So you have a more left-leaning university at a time when left/right hostility is getting more and more intense, and so any question that has a political valence: now there are a lot more people who want to do the football game—not the truth-seeking game—but the ‘we have to defeat the other side, don’t give me nuance, don’t give me data, we know what we believe and dammit we’re gonna…’
You got this changing political situation and then you’ve got a couple of threats about what we’ve done to kids. This is a whole other area of conversation of course, but we basically took away free play and gave them social media. Basically, kids who were born in 1995 and after—Gen Z—they had really different childhoods and they are not as prepared for conflict and college, we’ll get into that later.
But you put all of these things together, you get kids who are much more anxious and fragile, much more depressed coming onto campus at a time of much greater political activism. And now these grievance studies ideas about ‘America is the matrix of oppression and Look at the world as good versus evil,’ it’s much more appealing to them. It’s that minority of students, they are the ones who are initiating a lot of the movements.”
Something entertaining I want to point out at this juncture: While kids have invented these “safe spaces” online pretty recently, a study has shown that the Socratic method has been regularly enabling students to create their own safe spaces by being in big groups who debate with each other on a constant basis but there was a big catch to it all.
The Greek philosopher Socrates died in 399 BC and is famous for his so-called teaching method, so it’s highly unlikely that he let his students yell and scream at each other in some kind of barbaric way, no. He knew that there had to be a teacher to every class, somebody has to be in control of the discussion to steer it in the direction that allows the students to find their own questions and answers by testing each other through their dialogue.
Ann S Pihlgren—the educator from Stockholm University who conducted this research as her 2008 dissertation called Socrates in the Classroom—put it this way, “the facilitator’s ability to handle rule breaking, and to create a safe environment for intellectual exploration, was significant,” and that, “intricate ‘silent’ moves like gestures and glances helped maintain a productive and egalitarian seminar culture.”
As you’ll see, times have certainly changed.
In the same podcast as the quote earlier, Mr. Haidt describes the consequence of social media and something he called a “call-out culture” that’s rampant among the youngest generations. He explains how young adults in universities don’t confront, for example, their professors in private to challenge their provocative lectures or their minor outbursts anymore “because they don’t get any credit for it.”
A strong minority of students aren’t using the classroom to test the statements said around them to learn from them anymore, alternatively, they are bottling those words up, going directly on to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and calling out the “so-called” racist, homophobic, transphobic or misogynistic person for their own “so-called” social credit.
At one point, Mr. Rogan asks, “is social media partially to blame”?
Mr. Haidt responded with, “oh, that’s huge, yeah. Social media is a huge part of this problem. In a couple ways: one is the generational thing that we have, kids born after 1995 got this in middle school, it had a variety of effects on them, kids coming in are more conversant with call-out culture, that’s a big part of this.”
And by far the craziest thing that Mr. Haidt said was:
“The other thing though is that we used to have something called a ‘reasonable person standard.’ A professor just wrote to me recently and he got frustrated while trying to explain something, said ‘ugh, shoot me now,’ and a student was offended by this because ‘are you making fun of people committing suicide?’
And okay, you know, if she had come to him and said, ‘you know, professor, I know you didn’t mean anything, but that was kind of insensitive,’ that would have been great! That’s the way to handle it but for this generation raised with call-out culture and social media you almost never hear of a student coming to someone else in private because you don’t get credit for that.
They only get credit when you call them out publically and so that’s why we’re all walking on eggshells because most of our students are great, most of them are fine but if I have a class of 300 students, an electoral class, I know that some of them subscribe to this new call-out culture, safetyism morality. So if I say one thing, it’s not a ‘reasonable person standard,’ it’s a ‘most sensitive person standard.’ I have to teach to the most sensitive person the class.”
How can anyone challenge another person intellectually if we can never upset the most sensitive person that’s in the room? Will everything have to be done on a one to one basis from now on? Is this what these inventions have given us? I hope not but if these social media terrorists continue their attack on the education system that we grew up with—using the technology that we gave them as toddlers—it will eventually be labelled as an unsafe, inefficient and illegal institution. Who then decides who wins?