Leading the Next Generation Well: Over-Connected

Last week I blogged about young people feeling overwhelmed. It leads to a second problem. Frequently, youth respond in one of two ways to being overwhelmed. One, they push back and get lost in a virtual world of Second Life and video games, or a social world of Facebook and texting. It’s a coping mechanism. They survive by escaping reality and becoming someone else. Or, option two, they respond by trying to measure up. They push themselves to be a “Superkid.” They strive for perfection. With either response, we may have a train wreck ahead of us.

The train wreck could take the form of a dependency on technology to even survive. Some call this generation the “Connecteds.” Instead of using their youthful years to discover who they are and develop a lasting set of values to live by, they may become adults who can’t make it unless they are on Twitter with their friends constantly. Noise. Busyness. Connection. Talk. Volume. Speed. When will they ever unplug and discover their own identity? Will they ever experience the solitude that enables them to think or reflect on their own? Will they become a generation so connected, that they just parrot what peers are saying in their social network? Or, will they be individuals, who can think and act without consensus from others?

The train wreck may also take the form of miserable relationship skills and low emotional intelligence. Because so much of their life is connected by technology, young people fail to develop face-to-face people skills. Texting, for instance, just doesn’t prepare them to interact in real relationship dilemmas. Durable and lasting relationships cannot be reduced to a few words on a screen. And trying to resolve a conflict or “breaking up” on a screen is a lazy man’s solution. In my opinion, screens are for information — not emotion.

Our focus groups have shown young people are short on patience, listening skills and conflict resolution. Call me the “Master of the Obvious,” but it appears their generation is better at interacting with others via technology than face-to-face. We’ve let them become socially isolated and lethargic. Peter Eio, of Lego Systems, reminds us: “This is the first time in the history of the human race that a generation of kids has overtaken their parents in the use of new technology.”

With each passing year, Generation iY (a term I use for the current generation of kids) continues to flock to new technologies, quickly becoming masters at interfacing with them 24/7. Cell phones have become pocket TVs and pocket PCs. Twitter took off in 2009. That year 14 million folks began tweeting, many of them posting hourly updates on their life. A common theme in all these technology advances, according to author, Neil Howe, is to invite Generation iY to do something faster while also inviting them to spend more time at it. It’s an interesting paradox. Most new technology claims it will save the user time. However, it beckons them to actually spend more time using it. Many of the devices are addictive. What if this generation, as adults, simply becomes addicted to it all? The norm may be we trade traditional values like face-to-face, quality relationships that require time to unpack our feelings and thoughts for virtual relationships defined by speed and quantity. Technology without maturity can be hazardous. For many it’s addictive.

My suggestion…
Because our media rich world today never shuts off, there is stimulation 24/7. It has produced a world that artificially stimulates us. Students rarely experience a world of silence. I’m concerned that they now need outside stimulation to move them to act. What will happen when that stimulation isn’t present and they must get motivated from the inside out? I suggest adults talk this issue over with a young person and resolve to no longer be a slave to stimulation. One idea to help resolve the issue is to mutually agree to limit “noise time.” For instance, spend only one hour a day on a video game or on Facebook. Or, power down all technology for face-to-face conversation or to read a book. What if 15 minutes of car time was in silence, providing time to think and preview the day. What if you challenged them to do a ratio — for every hour connected with technology, they must spend one hour organically with people or with a book, to write in a journal or take a walk?

Your thoughts?


Leading the Next Generation Well: Over-Connected