It is easy to imagine that if our human communication is limited to the virtual world, it will soon no longer matter whether an image of a real person or an avatar appears on the monitor screen.
Almost everything that exists in the real world now has its twin brother online. It would even be correct to say that there are currently more undiscovered territories and opportunities in the virtual world than in real space.
Most of us, especially the older generation, get used to and adapt to these new conditions at different rates. The iGEN generation is much better at handling the demands of technology and virtual communication than the older generation. However, the transfer of most areas of life to the Internet also has its shadows.
Internet growing up and mental health
For the current generation of teenagers, turning to the smartphone has become almost automatic, because they remember this way of obtaining information and establishing contacts from birth. This group finds it easier to establish relationships by pressing the keyboard than by speaking words. This generation of the Internet – iGEN is constantly “connected” to mobile devices, growing up with a mobile phone in a school bag. It is said that iGEN teenagers were born at the same time as the Internet, growing up in overlapping, complex worlds – virtual and real.
The “iGEN” label was first used by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge (2019). The preposition consisting of the letter “i” in the name refers to the iPhone, which is one of the most popular Apple devices today. The brand, considered by some to be one of the most exclusive, is a defining factor in certain trends among young people, so having an iPhone is synonymous with keeping up with the latest advances in technology. Of course, the name iGEN does not only refer to people who have an iPhone of this particular brand, but to all people who live mostly “on the net” using e-mail, e-books, e-shopping and e-consultation.
J.M. Twenge describes the iGEN generation in a book entitled “Generation I. Why the Internet Generation Lost Rebellion, Became More Tolerant.” The research conducted by the scientist shows that people born after 1995 (or after 2000 according to another typology) entered adolescence with the introduction of the iPhone.
JM Twenge reports that daily responsibilities such as studying, doing homework or sleeping take about seventeen hours from teenagers, the remaining – about 6-7 hours – is free time, which is used to surf the Internet. In addition, an hour or two is also used to watch TV. Teenagers use their smartphone an average of 80 times a day. It should also be noted that during compulsory classes they are often accompanied by a mobile phone, to which the teenager instinctively reaches out.
In 2015, Life Satisfaction among young people plummeted in 2015, according to the Monitoring the Future survey (the year the oldest representatives passed their high school exams). The fear that a young person might miss out on some events led them to spend hours on the Internet looking at where their friends are and what they are doing, instead of spending time with them physically. This is the first step towards entering the space of solitude. J. M. Twenge notes that compared to 2011, in 2015, adolescents feel lonely by 31% more. In just four years, the level of feeling of loneliness among young people has risen incomparably compared to the results of previous years.
The use of smartphones and instant messaging leads to a deterioration in personal relationships. There was also a lot of pressure to achieve excellence online. Usually selected, filtered information, successes and pleasures are published on social networks. Photos and posts are chosen more and more carefully, especially if they are supposed to appear spontaneously. The Internet makes the personality of a young person tremble. The content that he encounters on a daily basis creates an illusory picture of the world in his mind, which is often impossible to realize. A young man, looking at photographs of celebrities, who mostly go through an intense process of retouching and embellishment, compares himself to them and thereby unconsciously lowers his self-esteem. Moreover, it falls into the trap of the virtual world,
Online communication has its own rules – here the reaction time is usually reduced to a minimum, because each of us has a phone with us and can potentially react. If your friend does not immediately respond to a message sent in the messenger, this causes anxiety and a feeling of rejection. Feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression have reached record levels. Studies show that girls are more likely to use the phone and social networks, they are more receptive to new requirements and patterns, they follow the desired records of celebrities. Reports show that depression rates in girls have increased by 50%. In boys, it is also higher than before, but twice as low as in girls, and is 21%.
J. M. Twenge points out: “In 2016, each of the measures of mental health problems scored an all-time high in the survey: below-average emotional health (up 18% since 2009), feeling overwhelmed (up 51%), likelihood of getting help from a psychologist (a 64% increase) and (perhaps the most disturbing) feelings of depression (a 95% increase, i.e. almost doubling), where there are clear jumps between 2015 and 2016.” The number of young girls seriously contemplating suicide increased by 34%, and the number of those who tried to commit suicide increased by 43%. On the other hand, the number of students seriously contemplating suicide increased by 60% between 2011 and 2016.
The iGEN generation lacks a sense of independence. They are addicted to the Internet as well as parents, teachers and virtual mentors. They are generally not determined enough to act on their own, making them unable to perform the simplest of actions. Young people moved the day into the night. Hanging out with friends before 3 a.m. causes you to lose your current circadian rhythm. In his book, Twenge cites a study that shows that compared to 1991, 57% more teenagers suffered from sleep deprivation in 2015. In just three years (from 2012 to 2015), the proportion of teenagers who do not sleep seven hours a night increased by 22%.
Not only is social media taking away the present, hours that were once spent in long conversations with loved ones have become 24/7 interactions powered by new technologies that we paradoxically participate in creating. Mindlessly observing the lives of celebrities and other people, even random people, watching their fictional stories or the fate of the characters in a series or a program prepared for the “needs” of users, takes up more and more everyday time. Young people scroll through screens in anticipation that they can finally find something interesting, funny, time-filled and relaxed on their desktop.
Constant internet connection, countless irritants and constant noise make young people less emotionally stable. Observations and studies show that it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people to cope with various emotions that they experience more often and with great force. Data from Twenge Mental Health Research clearly shows that the number of adolescents who cannot understand and control their emotional state is on the rise. Self-acceptance among today’s youth has fallen significantly because the demands they make on themselves and the pressure from outside are inadequately high.