Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before Paperback – March 6, 2007
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-- David G. Myers, author of The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty
"Twenge does a huge, decidedly un-GenX amount of research and replaces [hunches] with actual data.... [L]ucid and entertaining...bold...refreshing."
-- Chris Colin, author of What Really Happened to the Class of '93
About the Author
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743276981
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743276986
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.44 inches
- Publisher : Atria Books; Reprint Edition (March 6, 2007)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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One reason editors may respect a graduate degree is that the author has to pass a methodology course. However, the important things can be learned in freshman English.
Twenge periodically says really sensible and even insightful things that may appear to be leading toward some kind of a more systematic interpretation of the material… But it never does. Here she is on social interaction:
All in all, in-person social interaction is much better for mental health than electronic communication. This makes sense: humans are inherently social beings, and our brains evolved to crave face-to-face interaction. (p88) Just as playing the piano takes practice, so do social skills. (p91) Will the decline in in-person social interaction lead to iGen having inferior social skills? Some preliminary evidence suggests it will. (p90)
All true things, and here’s where it was all going: "iGeners are not practicing their in-person social skills as much as other generations did, so when it comes time for the “recital” of their social skills, they are more likely to make mistakes onstage when it matters: in college interviews, when making friends in high school, and when competing for a job."(p91)
Oh ok. You mean, they won’t perform as well at college and job interviews? That’s where you see the chickens coming home to roost? I don’t know, I’d be more worried about the kids themselves and our entire society as it’s steered into a dystopian shape. At least she mentioned making friends!
To me, the most disturbing findings reported by Twenge have to do with a huge decline in social contact. This is a decades old trend, the subject of numerous articles and books such as Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam(2000). But since the advent of hand-held devices, this trend seems to have accelerated exponentially among young people. In one example, the number of highschool kids who get together with friends every day or nearly every day went down from close to 55% in the late 1970s to about 30% in 2014. “Just as for happiness, the results are clear: screen activities are linked to more loneliness, and nonscreen activities are linked to less loneliness.”(p80) Naturally, this leads to depression. “Teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to be depressed, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are less likely to be depressed.”(p82)
Many of the most popular social media sites allow everyone to become the star of their own show—if only for a dozen people. But being The Star is a very specific experience. It means curating your identity, presentation, and performance for the consumption of others. It is the opposite of face-to-face socialization, which can satisfy our social needs. Instead, it stresses us out and makes us more alienated. Watching others’ presentation of themselves on social media encourages the worst emotions: narcissism, jealousy, and schadenfreude.
With regard to the way employers and authority figures use social media to screen applicants and spy on employees, it offers all the restricting features of a community, and none of the rewarding ones. You are judged and controlled, but the electronic nature of the interaction means you get little of the fulfillment that would accompany this if the interaction was real life. My experience growing up in a Jewish family is a good counter-example: your family will often screw your brain with guilt-tripping and emotional blackmail, but the experience of belonging to such a family is also very rewarding because of the affection and support you receive. With social media, you get just the control part.
Another jarring thing these books reveal is the level to which our trust of other people has fallen since 1976, when many of the surveys used in the book began keeping track. Trust in institutions has fallen as much if not more, but is not nearly as surprising and might even seem healthy considering the level of open hypocrisy, greed, and dysfunction of our leaders. Trust in others and perceptions of safety, on the other hand, seem concerning: safety is objectively higher today than it’s been in decades, with crime statistics unequivocal on this. Decline in trust for others seems to reflect the trend away from communitarian values and towards individualism.
Some of the data in these books may be the result of people’s attitudes changing along with the changing circumstances of the times, independent of generation. To know this, you’d have to compare GenX, Boomer, and Millennial responses over time with those of “iGen.” Twenge does include a few graphs comparing attitudes across generations in the present time, and these suggest that this is exactly what’s going on. Anecdotally and intuitively, it makes sense that people’s attitudes are not fixed for life. The Boomers are a good example: the hippies of the 60s became the yuppies of the 90s through today. The German film “The Edukators” illustrates this point, as the young radical protagonists inadvertently kidnap a yuppie executive who turns out to have been an SDS radical himself in his youth. Changes in attitudes may be most noticeable among the young at first, but they eventually affect all age groups. This is what these graphs appear to show. But if this is the case, the story is no longer that “iGen” is more safety-oriented or less trusting of government and politicians, it is that our entire country is undergoing these changes. If you write a book called “The New Generation is SO Different,” you don’t need an explanation for why they are different, really—it is a widely assumed belief that there are pronounced generational differences among us, even if that’s not really the case or if the real story is much more complex. If these changes are happening to everyone, on the other hand, you need to figure out why that’s the case—something Twenge doesn’t do. Clearly there’s more going on here, but without a conceptual framework (Marxism comes to mind as an already established, rigorous, and effective one), this data remains kind of meaningless. The narratives Twenge attempts to create for the changes in attitudes and habits between generations are often spurious, and never amount to anything satisfactory. One of the more surprising statistics the book reveals is that young people are having sex later than previous generations, and having fewer sexual partners when they do. The graph on page 209 illustrates this: men born in the 1930s and 40s had 15-19 sexual partners after age 18, this went down to 15 for those born in the 60s, then plummeted to 6 for those born in the 90s. Over the same period, women’s sexual partners increased from 2 to 7 for those born in the 30s through the 70s, then decreased to 5 for those born in the 80s to 90s. Twenge spends a number of pages considering various explanations for this, and at one point even mentions that young people simply spend less time with other people socializing face to face, which seems like a giant sign pointing to the answer to this mystery—but not to her. To Twenge, this is just another data point.
The best Twenge can come up with to explain the concerning trends she observes is a confused jumble of clichés and tautologies. “Political apathy and political polarization may have the same root cause: the Internet,” she opines on page 286. Really? Not the objective fact that our leaders are corrupt and hypocritical, our system apparently unable to respond to the needs and desires of the people, or that greed and materialism have seemingly emerged as our number one values, largely unchallenged and often celebrated? Twenge’s fumbling is all the more puzzling because she mentions many of the trends and conditions we can all observe around us, but can’t seem to connect them to their effects on people, never mind condemn the unacceptable and the unjust. To her, “cultural change is always a trade-off: with the good comes some bad.” (p290) Maybe Twenge would have seen the silver lining in the eugenics movement and the exclusion of minorities from most aspects of civic life in post-Civil War America. Or the Nuremberg Laws enacted by Germany in 1935.
Twenge herself mentions the crippling debt students graduating college are stuck with—although she doesn’t mention that this debt is unique in the American system for not being subject to bankruptcy law: once you have it, you’re stuck with it for life. Or that education is still mostly free in most other developed countries and many of the “undeveloped” ones. Or that previous American generations enjoyed free or at least affordable education. Elsewhere, she mentions that income has stagnated or shrank for most Americans, even as it has grown many-fold for the top 1% of earners. Life as a whole is much more expensive now, from rent to health care to child care, so that having two incomes has become mandatory for virtually everyone trying to raise a family.
Overtly, the media constantly promotes the ideology of individualism. Sayings like “it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” “the only one you can rely on is you,” have become mantras. But while hammering these messages into our heads, the media clearly recognizes that we are not happy with this paradigm. That’s why there are so many shows featuring more communitarian ideals and experiences. We miss being connected to other humans desperately, because (as Twenge herself reminds us) we are first and foremost social animals. We derive our meaning—who we are as individuals, how we are supposed to behave, what goals we should have—from other people around us, community, and society. This is why confusion is unavoidable for us today: we are programmed to look outside ourselves for meaning, but when we do, we are told that we are to find our own. Needless to say, nothing of the sort exists—all meaning comes to us from outside. Yes, we sort it all out and make the final decision on what to do and believe, but that’s a much smaller role in the process, and our “final” decisions are still going to be reviewed and accepted or rejected by our community, which always has the final say. It has always been thus, and it will always be thus; no other way of being human exists. It is what we do today, our illusions and delusions aside—the only difference is, we are confused about it and highly stressed out by the prospect of having to come up with our own identity, our own way of life, our own meaning, which is absurd because no one does that and no one has ever done that. Most decisions are made for us, and that’s a good thing. (I suppose I have to clarify that what I’m saying above doesn’t mean that we have no freedom or less freedom—it is, in fact, the opposite. As can be clearly observed, our subjective freedom is decreased when we are paralyzed by choices, especially choices about important things that most of us never consider consciously, like our identities and the way we are meant to live. In order to have anything one could call freedom, one has to first be firmly rooted with regard to these things, and firmly connected to other people by shared beliefs and experiences throughout our lives. Only then can we talk about being free. We truly have it all backwards, but this is no accident: confused, atomized, and alienated people are the only kind that put up with the kind of injustice and oppression that is required for modern capitalism to exist. The confusion and misery most of us must endure is the price of a system that allows just a few people to amass unprecedented wealth and power. Think about that! The medieval kings had less wealth and power than the richest people of today do.)
The young people whose survey answers Twenge analyzes are largely confused, disenchanted, materialistic, relatively uncaring about other people, animals, or the world, lonely, and depressed. They believe in few things outside of themselves. They are terrified of each other and spend less time with other people than ever, having fewer, less meaningful relationships and less sex as a result. They don’t read much, if at all, and are ignorant about almost everything except mass media stuff. These things are true for most of the rest of us, if not to the same degree—but we’re catching up as fast as we can. There are stories here, but none of them are that the new generations are particularly different from the ones that preceded them in any truly meaningful sense—unless you’re focused on how to better sell to young people, or “how can managers get the most out of the newest generation in the workforce” (p290), as Twenge seems to be. The graphs, the ones that are remotely relevant, that is, tell a story of a deeply disenchanted, alienated, cynical, lonely, confused, and unhappy society, the young foremost among them. The youth doesn’t choose the circumstances into which they are born, and they are not able to deal with these traumatic circumstances nearly as well as older people are. Until they develop the skills to cope, to a greater or lesser degree, the youth suffers more of the consequences of the trauma we subject ourselves to. They are committing suicide more often, are more prone to depression and anxiety, and are more unhappy in general. This is especially disturbing considering the fact that our formative years are traditionally considered to be the best years of our lives, free of the responsibilities of adulthood.
Despite what the witting or unwitting cheerleaders of today’s brand of exploitative capitalism want you to believe, not much of importance has changed in our society since the start of the internet age, and the changes that have occurred have been in line with previous trends, accelerated. I know this is hard to see sometimes, just as Donald Trump’s election was a shock to many who saw it as a complete break with the recent past, a return to antediluvian values they thought disappeared, like nationalism, racism, and intolerance for the weak and the disadvantaged. In regards to Trump, this narrative has been embraced by both Democrats and Republicans in America, too convenient to pass up. The truth is much sadder, even, than the prevailing narrative: these deplorable attitudes never left.
Obama’s years in power made it easy for people to imagine that we had reached some kind of new, more tolerant state in our society, and some of us have. But much of this perception came from the media. The “tolerant” and “inclusive” Obama presidency spent its eight years in power appeasing the established power centers at the expense of the rest of us and making sure not to rock the proverbial boat. I’m not saying that the current political and social climate is Obama’s fault, but having inherited the reigns of an unjust, corrupt, and tired system he did basically nothing to change it (despite being elected specifically on the promise of changing it), and here we are. Another guy who promised to change the system is in the white house, and he’s way worse. Because, the only people who don’t think that our system is broken are apparently those benefitting from its current arrangement. From now on, whichever candidate acknowledges that our society is broken will get elected.
The rest of us, meanwhile, can continue to let this terrible culture change us slowly into worse people, until our terribleness finally kills us and the world, or we can fight the source of our problems—this system of capitalist exploitation. Like the vast majority of us, I am not optimistic, but the older I get the more obvious it becomes that doing nothing is not an option, ironically, for my own sake first and foremost.
In Generation Me, Twenge talks about the fact that the best single predictor of success for kids, out of all possible variables, is perception of control over their lives. Other variables here include whether they are rich or poor, white or black or of another race, come from two-parent homes or not, where they live, who their parents are, what their religion is, etc. None of these were correlated with the kids’ success as much as their perceptions of control. Which makes perfect sense, right? This reminds me of the famous experiments where they would shock a rat in a cage through the floor at random intervals, and the rat would get depressed, stop grooming, stop eating, and die, in that order. In the next cage, the rat would also be shocked, at the same amplitude or whatever, the same amount, but this time at regular intervals—say, every 5 minutes. Just the fact that the rat was shocked at regular intervals, therefore giving the rat a tiny amount of control (really, perception of control—all it could do is sense when the shock was imminent and kind of tense up in expectation of it) made the difference in whether it would live or die. That’s how we work as animals, we can’t thrive unless we feel that we have some measure of control over our lives.
But, we sort of don’t. Definitely not in an existential sense, and not very much in a practical sense, either. The world makes most of the important decisions for us. Whether we are born rich or poor, or in the Congo or in Belgium, accounts for the vast majority of our life’s trajectory. If we are lucky enough to be born middle class in America, we are still a part of a merciless system of exploitation called capitalism, where success is determined by anything but hard work. All the while, we are told non-stop that the evidence of our senses is wrong: work hard and you will succeed. Anyone can be the president. Ignore the immigrants working for pennies picking produce. Pretend that the rich people’s children lording it over you, whatever company you work at, are deserving of their positions. For me, the combination of optimistic propaganda and phenomenal injustice led to years of depression. Dr. Twenge’s data suggests that this is the case for many people, but even those not given to reflection suffer the effects of the exploitation and hypocrisy. Ultimately, I had to admit that unless I can change my mental state and focus on the things that I can control, I may as well give up. We are not meant to spend our lives alienated and depressed. It’s a struggle, and a hopeless one in the end, but there’s no other way to live that I am aware of except to somehow embrace the paradox and continue to try.
I think this is book offers solid insight into the myriad world of Millenials and this could be of invaluable help to anyone who teaches or supervises folks in that generation. I’ve recommended this book to several HR professionals!
This book can help employers, teachers and parents understand the often infuriating behavior in their employees, students and children. Many good suggestions to help socialize this group are found in the last chapter.
Top reviews from other countries
Dieses in plain amerikanisch verfaßte Buch habe ich tatsächlich mehrmals lesen müssen, um meine eigenen Vorurteile wenigstens einigermaßen in den Griff zu bekommen. Denn weder die "Boomers" noch die "GenMe's" noch andere Generationen werden mit Samthandschuhen angefaßt. Statt dessen jongliert diese bemerkenswerte Autorin Jean M. Twenge damit, jedermann "seinen" Spiegel vorzuhalten, in dem man sich wiederfinden kann, wenn man sich traut -- hineinzublicken …
Noch wesentlich schwieriger erscheint mir jedoch, sich von der Vorstellung zu lösen, die "man" sich möglicherweise von der "heutigen Jugend" zurechtgefrickelt haben mag -- und DAS gilt sowohl für die positiven als auch für die negativen Aspekte.
"The idea for this book began when I was a 21-year-old college student at the University of Chicago in 1992, working on my B.A. thesis.", beginnt die Autorin auf S. 11, Motivation und Entstehungsgeschichte aufzufieseln in einer Art, die ihresgleichen sucht. Und dann zwingt sie bis zum Ende des Buches ihren Lesern Statistiken auf, die zumindest mich anfangs eher genervt haben. Diese "Langeweile" änderte sich jedoch sehr bald, als ich nämlich herausfand, wie überaus erhellend diese Gegenüberstellung statistischer Daten versus sehr klug mitgelieferter Ereignisse dieser Zeiten ist. Denn mit diesen Bezugnahmen auf aktuelle Begebenheiten läßt sich überhaupt erst nachvollziehen, warum wir heute junge Menschen erleben, die zuweilen zynischer als ihre Weltkrieg-lebenserfahrenen Urgroßväter daherkommen … "I have been lied to all my life", says Ana, 17. "My government is corrupt and evil" […, S. 145].
Aber lesen Sie selbst dieses Buch. Nehmen Sie dabei Ihr eigenes Selbstwertgefühl fest in den Fokus, falls Sie ein kritisch mitdenkender Mensch sein sollten. Denn Sie werden lernen und einsehen, wie schleichend ein solcher Prozeß ist, der aus menschenfreundlichen Menschen geradezu ... Kannibalen macht, was allerdings meine höchstpersönliche Interpretation ist. Jean Twenge hingegen prognostiziert auf S. 215: Zitat Anfang: "If the United States does not develop a better system of child care […], more women will chose not to have children. If that is the case, the United States will experience the under-pupulation problems already prevalent in Europe and Japan. The Social Security systems will fall apart, and the economy will falter. The ideology of the population may also change, perhaps negating some of the equalizing trends I just predicted. […]" Zitat Ende.
Diese Publikation erschien anno 2006, und ich las sie erstmals 2008, und erneut 2019. Ich muß zugeben, daß meine große Sorge zugenommen hat, daß die Autorin Recht behalten wird mit ihrer Prognose, die sich bei allem Verständnis nur noch zusammenfassen läßt in den Begriff "zunehmendes Interesse an sich selbst", und daas ist der befürchtete weltweite Narzißmus, der inzwischen längst snunamiartig über den großen Teich geschwappt ist und alles unter sich zu begraben droht ...
Wir mögen uns irren, die Autorin und ich, aber wir haben so unsere Befürchtungen. Jean Twenge sagt es am Ende dieses Buches überdeutlich, und dieser Aussage schließe ich mich vollinhaltlich an: Zitat Anfang Jean Twenge, S.241ff:
"We are raised to believe in ourselves, and to have a wildly optimistic outlook. Yet we are entering adulthood at a time when just getting by is increasingly difficult. Many of us will weather this collision of youthful expectation and harsh adult reality by becoming anxious or depressed. If you are a young person, I hope you have come to realize that you are not alone. If you are older, I hope you have gained the understanding that young people today were raised differently than you were, and that growing up today is not easy. In the coming years, I hope we will all realize that we can't make it solely on our own. Generation Me needs realistic expectations, careful career guidance, and assistance when we become parents. In return, we will gladly lend our energy and ambition toward our work and toward helping others." Zitat Ende Jean Twenge, S.241ff.
Ich möchte es mal so sagen: Greta aka Jean Twenge aka Greta was there, ever and always, aber niemand hat ihr richtig zugehört. Warum nicht? Vielleicht hat es sich inzwischen Gottlob doch schon ein wenig mehr herumgesprochen, daß Menschen doch nicht wirklich NUR Einzelwesen sind, sondern in einer Symbiose leben, die das Zusammenleben ALLER Völker ermöglicht, irgendwie?
Diese Publikation gehört zu den Schätzen meiner Büchersammlung, und ich bin sehr froh, es verinnerlicht zu haben, OBWOHL es mir noch immer Angst macht, wie visionär zutreffend die Autorin unsere Welt beschreibt ... seit 2006 bis heute, 2019!