I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology.Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum.
In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.
At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time.
It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy.
But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.
They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other.
Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without i Pads or i Phones.
The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now.
Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both.
More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been.
They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.
I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. Born between 19, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.