“Marriage is boring because you’re stuck with the same person for the rest of your life. It’s like having chicken every night for dinner. So people are waiting until they don’t have any other option but to get married” -Caitlyn, aged 22, quote from iGen: why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood by Jean Twenge
Born in 1995 or later, a new generation is beginning to make its mark. They have been called iGen, the internet generation, because they do not know a time before the internet; they have Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram accounts as a matter of course, and come complete with smartphones which they appear to have an instinctive skill in operating. The average iGener checks their phone over 80 times a day, tucking it under their pillow at night.
At worst they appear to live in a constant state of distraction, not really embedded in the world of form, but connected digitally and powerfully to a vast network of social media. This is their world, these are their connections.
What seem to be the characteristics of this generation?
Twenge outlines this in depth and detail in her book (above), and in this article, I have mainly focused on the relational aspects of iGeners’ lives.
- They grow up slowly. iGen is not really interested in getting a job over summer break in High School. They privilege Gaming and not going out, not going out to the mall but hanging out in a virtual space instead. They rely heavily on their parents help and are in no hurry to learn to drive, not rushing to leave home and find a place of their own. They are scared of what they call “adulting” and will often prefer movies meant for ages 2 or 3 years younger than them.
- They are very practical about the workplace. They do not except to find their dream job or sense of meaning or fulfilment in a job (compared with millennials who are meaning seekers). They prefer job security to adventure, a certain predictability about the workplace. Money earned is not about money for shopping, but we should not confuse this with a sense of non-materialisation, there is a sense that they really couldn’t be bothered to be materialistic or not.
- In later adolescence they are not bothered about sex. Sex is often seen as nothing magical; iGen is porn saturated, since they have had smartphones from when they were very young (and know just how to switch off the parental controls) they have watched hardcore porn from the age of around 11 or 12. This has either come to bore them, or they have come to except a sexual relationship to be like a porn show. Hook-ups are often the thing, hot sex and cold feelings are the name of the game, a kind of tindersex or swipeysex where relationships are to be avoided at all costs.
- They are very sensitive: one of the reasons why they do not do relationships is because they privilege safety (hence the safe spaces opening up in Universities…coming to your workplace soon?); they have been brought up in a culture of hyperpolitical correctness, filled with the threats of microaggressions and the notion that challenging words equate to violent acts.
- iGeners do not want to “catch feelings” -since romantic, connective feelings are so easy to catch (most are products of our dynamic unconscious in relationships so we hardly see them coming) then making sure they don’t catch feelings is an airtight iGen priority; acting as if you actually need somebody is thought as pathetic.
- They ghost: iGeners will treat relationships as chat rooms, creating multiple choice partners then cutting off an option, literally disappearing from the others device like a ghost, which can deliver a traumatic, rejecting blow to the ghosted other.
- They want to get it right before being in a committed relationship. This means being wild and free, no cuddles in a hook-up because that is connection and a connection equates to shameful behaviour which might lead to you compromising yourself. There is a sense of “you do you” (with all of its narcissistic implications) before you do “we”
- Getting it right means that iGeners are the primal force behind the capstone rather than the cornerstone marriage (if, that is, marriage is not seen as a redundant arrangement), relationship is seen as what you do when you are sorted, an endpoint, what you do when you are formed, rather than letting the relationship form you.
- Therefore, children arrive later: in previous generations young parents were in their twenties, now first-time iGen parents can be in their early 30s: when adulthood is postponed, so parenthood is, too.
Resistance to adulthood. Post materialistic. Sexually avoidant. Sensitive. Emotionally avoidant. Throwaway contacts. Committed to self. Capstone marriages. Postponed parenthood. These are fascinating shifts in attitudes amongst a new and flourishing generation, so different from the Boomer generation long before them with its long but often superficial search for authenticity and meaning, but do we recognise where, in effect, this could be seen as the inevitable product of the Boomers who let it all hang out and happen this way, with their (our, my!) fetishism of freedom and sexual liberation, alterative anythings, therapeutic wallowing, cars and tech and loving myself.
Chickens coming home to roost, anybody?
There appears to be a discourse in iGeners that personal development and learning occurs with greater efficacy outside a relationship, whereas an alternative to this might suggest that emotional and psychological (and spiritual) growth occurs optimally by embracing both. To negate the relational aspect is to live, perhaps, lopsided, and I wonder where that suppressed interpsychic aspect goes? What happens to that relational self? What actual stage of development is it at when it is eventually accessed? (hint: not mature). This is going to be a goldmine in a minefield for couple therapists.
The notion that only when you’re complete as an adult can you be in a relationship is a thought-provoking one. What does it mean to be complete? Sorted? Completely what? What if being in a relationship, learning to connect, care, and compromise actual completes more of you more quickly, and more profoundly?
The iGeners come to adulthood after a prolonged adolescence, which for an older generation looks like an arrested development, though may just be a response to an altered set of circumstances (going out in the 70s dressed as Ziggy Stardust was hardly thought of as mature by the parents of that generation).
The iGeners have spent their formative years glued to a small bright screen that tells then they are liked-or not. They are superconnected, but not to trees and walls and bricks and flesh, but to cyberspace and virtual others, and in “meatspace” they can be brittle and at times quite naïve, yet at times fiercely practical about their chances, about economics and politics and the workplace and love.
We had better reach out and understand them. Soon they will change everything.