The generation who have never known anything else

I have been happily ambling along in a cyber world that, selfishly to me, has only ever offered opportunity. I like being able to look up anything I don’t understand in a couple of seconds, I never have to wonder if I’ll ever find the answer to unknown questions ever again because someone out there on the Internet knows, right? 

I like social media too, yeah there’s a bit of bragging, ‘Everyone here I am doing something incredible, AGAIN’ But on the whole I like being subjected to edited versions of people’s lives – just like when we ask (in real life) ‘How are you?’ We only want to hear the stock answer of ‘Not too bad/ Fine.’ Facebook and Twitter have just refined that response to make it more entertaining and visual. 

I know it celebrates superficial relationships but in some ways it has taken away the pressure for deep and meaningful connections to be maintained forever. You can’t be best friends with everyone and now that doesn’t have to be so negative. 
I didn’t grow up with the Internet – it was only really coming into popular use as I was leaving school so for me it has always been a novelty – I don’t NEED a mobile phone or Internet – I just choose to use them. Or so I tell myself. However for younger generations this is not the case.

Recently I spoke to a group of teenagers born in 2001 who have never known life without the Internet. What struck me was how their participation in the cyber world was absolutely expected – there is no opt in – to survive socially and academically they HAVE to be part of this world. 

Teenager A was weary on the subject, currently the victim of bullying from her ‘friends’ on fb. She couldn’t seem to see anyway out of it and not checking her profile did not seem to be an option to her nor was blocking the said bullies. When I voiced what seemed to be the obvious decision of just coming off it for a while she shook her head and stated that she couldn’t just stop, she HAD to know what was going on around her, she might miss out. She admitted that if it was happening in person she would have no hesitation in ignoring the people. And yet even though she was clearly upset, she had no intention of heeding my advice – she used the word ‘addiction’ to describe her loyalty to social media despite her current situation. 

She is clearly a victim and the people bullying her pathetic but why would she willingly remain in a situation where she would continue to be victimized? Why is bullying on social media so prevalent amongst teenagers and why do the bullied refuse to take action?

Bullying at school is an inevitable part of growing up. We have ALL experienced it, it can last from five minutes to five years or possibly your entire school career. Teachers are rubbish at stopping it, in my experience they made it worse. I tried the hide away approach, never say anything in class – become invisible…wait for them to forget about you. They always move on to someone else. Now as an adult I know that bullying stems from the insecurities of someone else – although it doesn’t make it any better for the person on the end of it – oh, now I know you’re messed up, I’ll forgive you for messing me up too. It is age old problem but the Internet seems to make being a bully easier. 

In some ways bullying can require a certain amount of bravado, you kind of need balls to be a bully, which is a widely applauded quality amongst your peers at any age, but cyber bullying is so sneaky and cowardly. Anyone can be a bully now, not just the hardest, most popular or coolest kids – everyone. Would these people dare to be bullies in real life? 

Teenager B’s interpretation of the Internet was wholly different – it was a lifesaver – solely because it removed the need for social situations. He believed that without it he would be more frustrated and angry – he ‘didn’t like people'(!) therefore the Internet just took away any social pressure he would normally feel, relieved him of awkwardness so he could pick and choose who to talk to and not have to bother with idiots. Real life situations, for him, are a nightmare. 

A whole generation is now able to reinvent themselves online, not have to be the people that they are every day – pretend to be a persona that they are clearly not and block out anyone that they disagree with. Whilst this escapism is clearly attractive to everyone on some days and situations (who doesn’t want to be someone else every once in a while?), how healthy can it be to be living two separate lives, especially at an age when you are trying to accept the person you are becoming?

Maybe this generation will grow up to be more resilient, more adept at adapting to social situations or possibly the opposite. We can’t ever really know as it’s impossible to measure – how and where would you begin?

Every generation considers itself more well adjusted than the one to follow and possibly the one before – just ask Larkin. Today’s teenagers are undoubtedly more intelligent than previous generations (why else would we be trying to make GCSEs harder?) and maybe it is because of the Internet. 

What is clear is that my generation is the last to have had a cyber free childhood and as a result can never really fully empathize with what these teenagers are going through. Unfortunately it’s down to my generation and the ones above to protect them from the dangers posed by this new world but how can we when we simply do not understand its hold on them?