Is the Internet making Gen Z more close-minded?
During our event, The Recharge, we hosted a pass-the-mic showcase sharing insight on critical yet overlooked aspects in ED&I. Below is the full speech from Eli Keery on how the Internet and social media affects youth and maturity.
Probably the biggest change in the world that has impacted all of our lived experiences has been the advent of the internet and social media. Everything from how we find our interests and careers, to how we understand our identities and cultures has been completely transformed by its connectivity and the availability of information. I am going to speak about the impact of the internet through the lens of youth and how it has caused what I call, a maturity deficit.
As a 22-year-old whose Dad was especially tech savvy, I was introduced to my computer from as early as four years old and despite the occasional ups and downs, it has been a permanent relationship. I’ve always been an inquisitive person, interested in WHY people are who they are and how social dynamics emerge - and this was in no small part facilitated by the internet. - In years of researching, observing conversations, engaging in online spaces and intense debate rooms more popularly known as video game lobbies —- I can tell you for certain that the more I have discovered the less I realise I know about others. However, I have noticed the importance of experience.
There are always barriers to self-discovery, but youth for me is a long process defined by exploring a variety of these experiences, then rationalising and coming to terms with them. The difference now is that we have a way to mitigate or instantly impact how we view those life-defining experiences by looking to the internet for guidance. When I was a kid this sounded amazing, I could ask questions to the largest database on the planet and other people that wouldn’t have any judgemental impact on my personal life, could answer them!
I could find role models and interesting people who were going through the same things as me and find community. However in the uncertain and anxious time that is youth my need for answers was daily, sometimes even hourly. In that time before I’d realised I had gradually transitioned to becoming close-minded and easily influenced. Instead of actually talking with the people around me in real life or staying open to certain experiences, I would instead join online communities and subscribe to social influencers and trends that told me how to think about them and then how I should respond.
In those earlier times, I never accounted for how content was served to me while I was on the internet. The algorithm serves what is the most attention grabbing to the most people, which are topics that evoke the most emotion; often the more negative and morally questionable. This is where nuance comes to die and misinformation spreads as in-depth reasoning and unique experiences are not what is served to mass audiences. Searching for answers to life’s many questions can quickly snowball into subscribing to hateful ideologies while you still lack experience in reality.
I’ve had the privilege of a growing open dialogue with my family and friends, and I take a specific interest in critically engaging with social topics which I have carried forward and into my career with the Unmistakables. But in my anxious and insecure youth I, like many others, could have easily fallen down a fearful path and never resurfaced, spouting negative and extreme views that I had learned from the online world. And this isn’t to say that I am completely free from their influence, I’m still learning how to navigate and ease the influence the internet maintains on my mind. But our currently divisive times in regards to ED&I are in no small part due to how we navigate the internet. For the youth who will never know a world without it, it is more important than ever to facilitate open dialogues about our fears and insecurities beyond just therapy settings and encourage and teach critical thinking skills and media literacy as the anxiety of growing up is not something that will leave us.
Eli Keery is an Associate at The Unmistakables. For the full recap of The Recharge including takeaways and other speeches, click here. If you are interested in attending our next Recharge event register your interest here.