The social networking generation: are we at a loose end?

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As someone whose least favourite word in the English language is ‘bored’, it was shocking to discover the results of a recent survey conducted by BBC Radio 3. When interviewed, the older generation were seemingly fulfilled by their work and family, whereas a startling 35% of 16-24 year-olds claimed to be bored with their lives. So, just where are we going wrong?

We are the social networking generation: the generation that has it all. But in many ways we have lost a lot too. Our TV screens are a popular source of entertainment in place of time spent with family, the survey discovered, and computer screens provide entry into a brimming social world. Technology definitely brings a wealth of advantages but it also breeds passivity. As young people we should want to see the world and make our mark, not simply because it would make an interesting Facebook status or an update to our twitter feed, but because we can. With so many resources available we could do anything, and we should. There is no reason to be bored. Upon discovering that people spend around 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, I vowed to get back to reality by spending less time in cyber world and more time with real life and real people. Whether this meant a coffee with friends, attending a pilates class or just reading the newspaper, it was a refreshing change from cultivating plants on my online farm.

Another worrying statistic is that 28% of young people admitted to feeling unhappy and lonely. It is ironic that the generation, who on average have 130 online friends each, find themselves trapped by isolation. The survey also claimed that our generation struggle the most to hold down jobs and build relationships. How is this the case when we apparently have the most ‘sociable’ existences?

We can talk to any acquaintance instantly; we document our lives with them through a montage of online pictures; we can view our complete ‘friendship’ on a single page in one click. Our relationships are distilled and captured entirely; perhaps in doing so we remove the spontaneity and reality of a true bond. Social networking can provide a lot of things but it cannot bring the warmth of a hug, a smile or even genuine emotion. Essentially it removes the character behind the people: we become just words and images. Lifeless. Maybe part of the reason that we often feel deserted is that a screen gives nothing back but the occasional headache; whilst this is sometimes true of real friendships, the reality is that we mostly receive joy in abundance too.

Despite all the negative statistics in this article, social networking remains a wonderful tool. However, that is all it should be. It should be a means by which we arrange our reality and keep in touch with old companions; it shouldn’t create friendships or be expected to sustain them. If we want to better the statistics we need to have a close relationship with people who matter, not simply our screens. Social networking is a bit like piracy. It is a cheaper, easier version of something: a blurred remnant of the full picture. The reality it creates is nothing like the true experience and we end up feeling slightly cheated. Social networking is gold, but fools’ gold. We need to find the real deal too.

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