Is our generation really the most boring one yet? This is the question I pondered as I filed my way out of my history classroom and into the crowded halls. The context: my history teacher had stood waving a battered copy of Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, explaining to the class that by reading books such as the one he held, one could enrich oneself and thereby further one’s understanding of history. According to him, our generation is so distracted by electronic delights that we neglect many things, among which the pursuit of knowledge through core reading. As such, we were the least knowledgeable and most boring generation yet.
I couldn’t let it go. Was he right? One would think that the opposite would be true, that a generation with so much information at its fingertips would be the most knowledgeable. After all, in a matter of minutes, I could become an expert in any field I so desired: the famine in Somalia, the causes of the Hundred Years War, the life of the Biafran general Ogbugo Kalu. Logically, my generation should know the most, be the best-read, be the most interesting. But I felt that he might have a point. It is true that not all teens take advantage of this easily accessible information without some level of prompting. It is true that much of the input I absorb comes in the form of brief text messages, of Snapchats with bold white letters glowing on a dark screen. It is true that midway through reading, my mind wanders off on a hyperlink or clicks on some popup notification. And it also is true that many of my conversations will screech to a halt when my conversation partners decide to sneak a quick peek at their social media.
Does this make us boring people? Is it true that I could be doing ‘interesting’ things, discussing stimulating topics, with the time I spend scrolling on my phone? Is it true that despite everything I absorb online, I process and remember very little of it? This strikes me as a gross generalization, considering that never before in history have children been expected to know so much. With the heightened demand for my time, energy and attention in and out of school, it is no surprise that I sometimes struggle in dedicating my very short and limited free time to more learning. And one would think that the extra amount of information I am expected to know would make up for the things I do not learn in my free time.
But I cannot help but wonder if perhaps he has a point. The thirty minutes per day I dedicate to watching cooking videos or answering snaps, or scrolling past pictures of people in coffee shops could be spent reading about current events. Or I could read (more of) my book. I could dedicate my social media time to drawing (a hobby of mine) or considering the major themes of Catcher in the Rye. I could investigate charity organizations in my community or I could garden or join a book club or I could read up on the opinions of a local politician.
While our generation might be the most boring one yet, it might just be the most stressed one as well. Similarly, many young students are the victims of cognitive overload. When their brains have reached the limit of their working memory, they aren’t able to absorb new information and connect it to pre-existing knowledge. This would render them unwilling (or even unable) to absorb media that is not superficial and mindless.
Is my teacher right? He might have some valid points. However, having heard this point of view, I am re-evaluating the way I use social media and the amount of time it occupies.