In a cover story on urban youth in India called Aliens! (ref Stowe Boyd and Dina Mehta), Business World begins the article with “If men are from Mars and women from Venus, is the species known as ‘youth’ from the moon orbiting the distant Pluto?” This kind of framing inevitably worries me because it signifies that the writer is going to speak about youth as a fascinating ‘other’ where adults exotify youth. Throughout the article, they refer to different age groups as different species while trying to classify different groups of youth using models that would make sense to adults. ::cringe::
Deeper inside the magazine is an article entitled IMHO*, IM Rulz. I begin the article concerned. For the most part, the article discusses practices, but there are embedded assumptions that really get my goat. Here’s the one that upset me the most:
IM is a kind of metaphor for the mindset of the new millennium youth. It fulfils a deep-seated need for constant stimulation. And keeps pace with their shorter attention spans.
In July, i spoke about how designers are building technology off of the assumption that everyone has ADD. We often joke about the fact that the MTV generation has no attention span, but i have never seen anything that empirically validates this. Without concrete data, i’m absolutely convinced that this is just an adult projection onto youth. There is no doubt that the prescription of ritalin and adderall are way up but there are tons of reports on misdiagnosis of ADD. Interestingly, more kids are diagnosed in the wealthier districts of the States. Why? Well, frankly, almost everyone i know sees an improvement in their attention span when they’re on these meds and pressure parents who are determined that their kids get into the best schools and calm down and otherwise act proper are bound to see this as a perfect remedy. That does not mean that these kids have less attention than any previous generation.
What we do know is that there is far more media available to consume today. With thousands of TV stations and the Internet, there’s almost infinite choice. Guess what? With more choice, people are needlessly asking themselves “is there something better?” Channel surfing is not a new phenomenon. Given choice, people are worried that they might be missing something.
And what is this deep-seated need for constant stimulation that they are referring to? And why is this particular to youth?
Aside from my irritation at their projection of ADD onto youth, i think that their causal relationships are all screwy. Youth exist in an always-on culture. With mobile phones and computers at their finger tips, they are able to maintain relationships constantly, unbarred by physical geographical constraints. Always-on culture is not the product of a deep-seeded need for constant stimulation. Alternatively, the perception of this need for stimulation probably results from the opportunity of having an always-on culture.
Identity formation amongst youth is deeply rooted in being able to connect and relate to others of the same age. Remember the paper cup phones that kids would string between neighboring houses to talk late at night? Remember teenagers and land lines? IM is no different. It’s just a new opportunity to keep in contact with one’s friend group, not the production of some mental deformity.
My gut reaction says hysteria around IM culture has to do with hysteria over what adults don’t understand about youth because of generational differences with regard to access to media. Thus, i groan.