We’ve been joking about being raised by TV since they first became available as consumer electronics. Like with any new technology introduced to children, the age-old questions rolled in: “How much time should I let little Timmy spend on the [SCARY FUTURE DEVICE]? If he spends too much time with it, will his brain melt and drip out of his ears? Will he become a social recluse, incapable of fitting into society? Will the other moms at the PTA talk about what a bad parent I am whenever I leave the room?”
We worried about roughly the same thing when radios started appearing in every home, and before that we thought the printing press was going to ruin culture, and long before that we griped over the advent of written language itself so suffice to say we get into these little technological moral panics pretty regularly thankyouverymuch.
So, YouTube. How much time should we let little Timmy spend watching you?
YouTube Kids is a service that the platform provides to help parents curtail what kind of content their little dependents can view. As of November of last year, YouTube Kids is now, and I quote, “live in 37 countries, has more than 70 billion views in the app, and more than 11 million weekly active viewers.” 11 million! Weekly! Active! Viewers!
It’s hard to find the most up-to-date numbers on how much time the average American child spends on Youtube– especially considering YouTube can be accessed on a smartphone, tablet, computer, TV, EasyBake Oven, TI-86 Calculator, etc. But it’s not hard to find parents (and people who product content aimed at parents) worrying about how much is too much.
The iGeneration, Post-Millenials, Digital Natives
Around this time is also when we’re getting to the point where we have to start looking at ‘Gen Z’ or whatever they’re going to end up being called and seeing what generational markers define them, and what that’s going to mean as they start being able to vote and spend their own money. Usually I see people saying the unifying features that define Millenials (aside from our love of avocado toast and our crippling anxiety) are that 9/11 happened at some point while we were still in our formative years, and we remember it, and that we were born into a world where the internet was not a part of our daily lives, but by the time we became adults it absolutely was — Google and Youtube and all the other household name, enduring websites started up during our youth. When Gen Z was born, they already existed.
So, what will Gen Z’s unifying factors be?
Jean Twenge, author of the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, outlined a handful of characteristics that seem, so far, that the iGen has in common. In the first five on the list, ‘less happiness’ and ‘less mentally healthy’ appear.
Another one of the names proposed for their generational cohort was the Deltas, after the mathematical symbol that represents change and uncertainty. I like that one, but I think it’s missing an element; what Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice.
When my parents were kids, there were three broadcast television networks and the Truth was whatever was presented on the evening news. When I was a kid, there were broadcast networks and cable channels and newspapers from all around the country and the Truth, people would say, with a wry little smile, always lies somewhere between two extremes. So the far-right people would say one thing, and the far-left people would say another thing, and whatever detail they agreed on would probably be True.
Kids now? They have so many outlets they could look to, and so many people slinging the words ‘fake news’ around, and I’m just not sure if they’re going to feel like there is an uppercase t Truth. They’ll have some things that feel true, sure. But it’ll take fifteen seconds of googling to find another source that disproves it.
Two of the things Barry Schwartz talks about when it comes to what makes freedom of choice so dissatisfying are 1. Opportunity cost, and 2. Escalation of expectations/self-blame.
- With more choices, no matter what we’re doing there are more things we could be doing, and the attractive qualities of those other options will make us less happy with the choice we did make (if we actually got around to making one).
- If there’s a million options, we are lead to believe there should be one that fits us absolutely perfectly. The example he gives is buying jeans; you try on three dozen pairs and you pick the one you’re the most comfortable with, but unless they’re magically sculpted jeans fated to fit you and you alone, then they’re still kind of a letdown. Back when there was only one style of jeans, if they didn’t fit very well, that’s the fault of the store or the designer. But if the store stocks a million different designs and you can’t find one that makes you look amazing, well, that’s your fault, isn’t it?
Bring it back to YouTube and Digital Media?
Right. So, there are more choices in a city than out in the countryside. But there’s one place that offers the most choice of all, a dizzying, paralyzing, laughable volume of choice, and that’s the internet.
As of November, over 400 hours worth of content was being uploaded to Youtube every minute. There’s so much you could potentially be watching on Youtube, you could have videos playing on multiple screens without pause for the rest of your life and not see it all. So when my generation said we were ‘raised by TV’, we could rattle off a list of shows and other similar-aged people would nod and have seen the same things. The sort-of-older Millenials had Saved By The Bell. Younger ones might have gotten into Adventure Time when it premiered. Enough of us probably understand what’s going on in this gif for it to have some sort of… effect, collectively.
First we’ve got to make fun of the iGen for eating tidepods and snorting condoms and their shitty music and whatnot, but then we’ll have to start taking them seriously and some of them are demanding that sooner rather than later. So we’ll have to ask; what kind of adults are they going to be? And who influenced them to turn out that way? And how much responsibility lies at the feet of Youtube and other platforms that are such a big part of so many formative years?