Bamboozled by too much information
has to be the most encouraged generation of youth ever.
They are constantly told that within them is a seed, which if nurtured, will become the most beautiful flower of its type in the world. Or as the pop song goes: “I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.”
The pressure mounts. Previously I highlighted that we empower this generation to choose the path that is right for them. Now we tell them that if they choose the right path, think and be positive, they can be the best in the world at something. We surround them positive people and messages, and we protect them from negative feedback so they can fulfil their potential and find their niche in life.
But there are seven billion people on this planet. The chances that my child will become the best in the world at something are not good. We facilitate unrealistic expectations. Most will be ordinary, but ordinary is now an anathema.
It’s not just positivity that creates unrealistic expectations. Think about the internet and social media. Have you ever watched a movie trailer only to realise that all of the best parts of the entire movie had been compressed into two minutes? Social media does that. It gives us the impression that everyone else is living a Hollywood life.
The internet also creates an egocentric experience of the world. Youth spend hours taking the perfect selfie to post on their page. “Likes” provide instant feedback which leads to further enhancements.
The egocentric world goes well beyond editing our best self-image. The internet is full of subjective and contrasting opinions. The internet surfer becomes the editor of truth. It is up to me, the reader, to decide which pages I shall visit, to arbitrate over the competing claims.
We can do this because the internet muddies the distinction between truth and opinion. Whatever the science might be, the cases for and against climate change look equal on the internet. Whatever the history might be, I get to determine if Australia Day was an invasion
or a blessing. Whatever the Koran might say, I get to decide whether Islamic State is a religious or an extremist organisation.
We are bombarded with opinion, sometimes guised as information. We feel compelled to check the news to check if there has been another terrorist attack in Europe; if Donald Trump has sacked another staffer by tweet; if Kim Jong-un has fired another missile.
What does one do with this constant feed of information? How and when do we process it? If diplomacy fails with North Korea, what are the other options and their consequences? Too much information, too easily accessed, leads to confusion, feeling overwhelmed — not to more knowledge, or wisdom.
The internet has bred a generation that has a mosaic of bits of information mixed up with opinion, but most will not have a comprehensive world view. There is no shared coherent overarching story that underwrites all the anecdotes of life. At best you write your own story, and worst you have a series of nice but ultimately random events. All of this is deeply unsettling.
The internet is not just something we access, it alters us. Winston Churchill said, regarding architecture, “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. Nowhere is this insight more true than of the internet. It is changing the way we do family, socialise, learn, think, organise and behave.
To summarise, too much individual choice, and the loss of shared wisdom leaves our youth feeling anxious, overwhelmed by the range and the magnitude of the choices they are being asked to make.
We have facilitated expectations that they will be special, unique, the best in the world at something. They are unprepared for ordinary.
The internet only increases the fear they might miss out. Instead of providing scaffolding for the construction of a life and understanding of the world, it bombards us with information overload. David Rietveld is senior pastor at Victoria’s New Peninsula Baptist Church and former minister at Wellspring Anglican Church, Sandy Bay.