The Last Free Generation

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I am frequently frustrated by technology: the touch screen of the smart-phone; the remote desktop which I cannot access from home: the myriad instructions that I need to write down in order to operate an interactive whiteboard. My sister would call me Luddite; I would say’ “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I have an (inherited) smartphone, I have a Macbook, I recognise the value of technology in society, but I am also aware that technology does not make a society.

Teaching 16-18 year olds 3 years ago on my PGCE, one of the (many) frustrations for me was the almost constant use of mobile phones in class. No wonder these kids were re-sitting their GCSEs…One day I said to them, “You know, I had more freedom than you could ever dream of when I was 17.” Eyes were raised from the tiny screens ‘hidden’ under the desk to gawp at me in disbelief.”What?”
“Why?”
“How?”
“Because,” I stated simply, “I didn’t have a mobile phone.”
“But you need a mobile!”
“How can you be free without one?” and so on. Their shocked responses at least reassured me that they occasionally listened to me.
“Well, when I went out for the day (or night), I was out. No one could contact me or hassle me or bombard me with messages. I was out until I got home. The day was my own.”
The class, who were usually gobby little shits, were for once, speechless. Perhaps it was realising that their 28 year old teacher had once been a teenager, but I like to think that they were imagining another life; the life my sister and I and all our friends had. We were the last free generation; the generation that grew up in the 90s without Facebook or mobile phones; a time when twitter was something that birds did and having a word-processor at home meant that you were posh. Mobile phones were just the beginning, though.

I read somewhere that a smart way of spying on people is not to rule them with an oppressive regime or create fear and paranoia by watching their every move. Rather, simply invent a website that keeps tabs on almost every aspect of people’s lives, and then convince them that this website is a great way to socialise with current friends, as well as make new ones. Voila! No need to force people to sign up to it- with the right marketing everyone will actually want to be on this ‘social network’! While I do recognise the benefits of being able to see photos and the lives of friends and family abroad, I am sure I am not alone in believing that this benefit is far outweighed by all the negative aspects of social networking.

Firstly, there is the fact that many people put every aspect of their lives online: relationship status; what they ate for breakfast; how many minutes until they get home. 1. Most people don’t care- your life is not that interesting. 2. Why do you feel the need to do this? Would you go up to a stranger in the street and tell them about your private life? Probably not. So why do it online?

Secondly, social networking is inherently anti-social. People do not speak to each other when they are in the same room, instead sending messages to someone else. Why not actually phone or visit that friend? Communicating online has made people lose the ability to hold a normal conversation with another human being. While people are busy networking online, they are probably sitting at home, alone, when they could be out living real life in the real world.

Social networks breed loneliness while giving powerful corporations and total strangers even more power over us by watching our every move. While some people can use social networks in moderation, many cannot. I myself would lose 40 minutes drifting through friends’ photos, sometimes smiling, sometimes wondering why I hadn’t been at that particular event, when all I had intended to do was send a quick message to someone. As a person who can be easily distracted and struggles with getting places on time, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. It was hard, for a month, but I am so much better off without it.

For me, Facebook wasted time, made me sad and pissed me off with amount of utter shite people put on there. Three years without Facebook is one of the lasting steps I’ve taken to reclaim some of my pre-social network freedom. I grew up in the last free generation. There will never be freedom of that sort again, but at least I can retain a small piece of it by living a real life, offline.

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