Why are they always on their damn phones?
As a kid, I was lucky enough to grow up with a web developer dad, and a paranoid mom. When it finally came time for me to create my first ever email address, I distinctly remember my father telling me I should never, ever, ever use my real name online, because “you never know what could happen,” and something about how the internet is dangerous. And that’s the story of how I came to be identified with, for the few subsequent years, the terribly cringey online username of “Elycat1.”
Finding a sense of belonging has been a confusing experience for those who, like me, were raised during the transition period between the offline and online ages. The security of the internet, the privacy, and the social implications of building our digital footprint were dealt with such nonchalance that I didn’t see the time go by until we were caught up with influencer culture and information overload.
We can say all we want about the calamitous effects the internet will have on kids’ brains, and the havoc it will wreak on existing societal structures. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never want to underplay the devastating effects of social media or of the over-accessibility of information on mental health, self-confidence, or social expectations. But I also see so many ways in which those younger than me have thrived from growing up in the digital era, and I can’t hide the admiration I hold for them.
These days, I’m noticing so much ease in younger people who are overcoming the hurdles my peers and I faced while we were shaping our identities. It might seem superficial, but I rarely ever see anyone dressed in the quite tasteless way I used to, or having the insecurities I did about my own interests.
I know not everything we see online is to be trusted, yet I feel a lot of sincerity in what teenagers publish on the web. For me, it was always a struggle growing up to find affinities with those around me, and it was very embarrassing (it still is) to me that the community I felt I belonged to most was the One Direction fan club on Twitter. But as computers and phones have crept their way into our day-to-day, even the most fringe tastes can create kinship among strangers.
It’s uplifting to read about kids supporting each other through coming-outs, anxiety episodes, experiences of abuse and other adversities they face, and to find encouraging, sympathetic voices coming from the same demographic that the media discredits as impudent and lazy. I have to admit that I sometimes feel envious of how welcoming many online spaces can be on platforms like Tumblr, which used to be seen as kingdoms of eccentricity.
I’m very inspired by the ambition and creativity set forth by younger crowds. For better or for worse, their identities and characters are a lot better defined than my own were a few years ago. Though I only started forming concrete political beliefs at the end of high school, I’ve seen kids much younger than that at rallies and protests. I’m not sure if this is supported by a society that more thoroughly endorses critical thinking, or by one in which maturity has become a pressing necessity — either way, it’s impressive how aware and concerned they feel about the world.
TikTok has been in the news a lot lately, and though it’s rife with short-lived trends, there has been a constant stream of heartening and self-bettering content. Educational, philosophical, politically relevant, and health-advocating videos have done numbers, and though some may see it as a trend or as a response to a demoralizing quarantine, it seems to me to be part of a greater youth-led movement that prioritizes self-realization and happiness.
For a generation who has only known a world assisted by softwares and screens, a lot of what is reproached of us, like being too reliant on technology or too disconnected from physical reality, has been implemented and enabled by a society whose goal was to make life better. It’s become a game of sorts for our elders to boast the pains they experienced at our age, almost in an attempt to prove their resilience — my mother always reminds me how far she had to walk to school when I bring up the length of my daily commute.
But in fact, shouldn’t we be happy that people have it easier than we do, and to hope they can thrive in ways we couldn’t? I am, at least, and I’m proud of the place young people continue to make for themselves in the world.
Graphic by @the.beta.lab