Wednesday 1 May 2024

Self-Help For Cynics #31: Pandora's Box

Ryan Adams - To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)

Last week we looked at how our addiction to digital media, in particular but not limited to social media, can have serious negative effects on our mental health. This is particularly affecting teenagers and young people, but us oldies can't really be smug or complacent about it as it's just as easy for us to fall into a similar trap.

Nikki & The Corvettes - Young & Crazy

Working in a mental health hospital, it's clear to see a drastic increase in mental health problems among teenagers - hardly surprising if up to 50% of them are addicted to their mobile phones. In recent years, the medical profession has had to respond to a serious growth in self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal ideation, and one of the many reasons for this is constant unfiltered online conversation about these subjects. Young people are no longer exposed solely to the opinions and experiences of their immediate peer group: the whole world is out there waiting to talk to them. And a lot of the world is not very nice at all...

The Specials - Too Much Too Young

Lockdown often gets blamed for many of the mental health problems people are facing this decade, and I'm sure our experiences during covid had some effect... but arguably the worst thing to come out of the pandemic was the way that so much of our lives was forced online. As a teacher, I'd never taught an online lesson prior to Lockdown. I had to learn how to do so very quickly, but I really thought things would go back to normal once schools and colleges opened up again. And yet, there's been a noticeable push in certain fields of education (particularly universities) to keep at least part of the curriculum online, for reasons that have nothing to do with education and far more to do with saving money. And this has been echoed in a lot of businesses too - how many meetings do people now attend via Teams rather than by sitting around a table with a coffee and looking each other in the eye? Once Pandora opened that box, the lid was never going back on.

Utopia - Rape of the Young

And so our addiction and reliance on the internet in every aspect of our lives has grown stronger. Meaning more screen time for everyone. And nobody's feeling happy about this... except the tech companies. The most recent World Happiness Report suggests that under 25s, traditionally among the happiest section of the population, are now just as stressed and miserable as their middle-aged parents. (In fact, the only generation who still manage to smile are those who've reached retirement age.) 

London Grammar - Wasting My Young Years

Why are young people so miserable? Why are they having a mid-life crisis in their 20s? (They're calling that The Quarter Life Crisis, in case you think I'm making it up.) The cost of living, shrinking job market (thanks, in part, to our new AI Overlords) and slim chance of getting onto the overpriced property ladder must take some of the blame... but I don't think we can underestimate the culpability of the internet. 

Radiohead - We Suck Young Blood

Young people today live their lives online. Many are spending between 7 and 10 hours a day on social media. And by doing so, they are rewiring their brains. Shorter attention spans, a constant craving for dopamine highs, the inability to concentrate on anything longer than a 280 word tweet or a 30 second TikTok video. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Their whole life is affected and controlled by the internet - relationships, education, career, self-worth... 

Lowgold - Beauty Dies Young

Maybe this is just evolution. Maybe their brains need to be rewired to survive in the future. I can't say. Because older generations have been prophesying doom for wreckless youth for decades, if not longer. And I'm just another doomsayer. I wouldn't mind so much if they were happy though. Only they're just as miserable as the rest of us now... and surely that's not what being young is all about?

(Not been a lot of Self Help this week, has there? I'll try to redress the balance next time.)


  1. Another really interesting post Rol. I'm not surprised young people are just as unhappy as their middle-aged parents - so much pressure on them and only the few are lucky enough to have a carefree existence.

    DD and Mr DD move into their first house next week and the size of their mortgage is giving them sleepless nights. Shouldn't be like this.

    1. I hope they find a way to cope with that mortgage... but at least they're getting on the mortgage ladder young. As someone who didn't get on till my mid-30s, I now have a mortgage that lasts me until my early 70s... eek!

  2. An insightful and thought provoking post as always, Rol. From a work perspective, yes, so many interactions have moved to an online or hybrid model. Often badged as agile working, it’s interesting to see how often it’s also labelled as a ‘greener’ alternative, not necessarily backed with the data to demonstrate if or how it is.

    1. Businesses will always find a way to promote what is better or more cost-effective for them, conveniently ignoring what's better for their workforce. It's capitalism in action!

  3. I've been saying out loud, to anyone who can be bothered listening, that young people are getting a rough deal, certainly in comparison to the times us 50/60-somethings enjoyed back in the day.....and you've captured so many of the reasons why that’s the case. Great piece of writing (again!!)

    1. I do often wonder what Sam will look back on, when he's my age, and how he will judge the youth of his day...


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