Ramblings of a Tampa engineer

This post all started with a simple quote I heard that went something like - "If Facebook was popular when I was in school, it would have made my life hell."

It rang a bell in my head, because I still remember when rumors were moving about the newest coolest social media site that was for college students only. This would quickly allow high school students and then evolve to allow anyone of a certain age and that was Facebook. There was social media before that with Xanga and MySpace, but neither of those really boomed and took off like Facebook. I attribute this to the age of mobile phones becoming smart around the time of Facebook.

So let me set the stage for why I believe this upcoming Generation Z is going to have some challenges to overcome. I believe this has to do with 3 things - social media, current events & technology. So lets start with the problem.

The CDC put out a report a few years ago titled - State Suicide Rates Among Adolescents and Young Adults Aged 10–24: United States, 2000–2018.

What is interesting in this report to me is the following breakdown of suicide among kids aged 10 to 24.

  • 2007 Suicide Average Rate (per 100k) - 6.8%
  • 2018 Suicide Average Rate (per 100k) - 10.7%

That is roughly a 57.4% increase in suicides and that is just the average. When you look at each state percent increase individually - it swings quite massively in the average percent change.

Curtin SC. State suicide rates among adolescents and young adults aged 10–24: United States, 2000–2018. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 69 no 11. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2020.

I now live in Florida which is surprisingly low in the percent change, but I grew up in Kansas/Missouri which holds 60% or above in the increase in suicide rates among kids.

I was in a position like million others to be going through school while personal technology and social media was just taking off, while the next generation is going through school from a completely different point. So let's jump into my 3 categories, which blend massively together and talk through this.

Social Media

There are folks in this world that their entire life is focused on matters like these, so I can't pretend to know more than those. I however, can give personal experiences and notice the differences between then and now.

Social media becomes more powerful when access to it becomes easier. This naturally happened with the growth of technology and putting smart phones in the pockets of all. In my age, I remember when the first kid got an iPhone. It was news among everyone, because that device was insane with features.

Though if you take the clock back 1-2 years in my era. Only a handful of students had phones - the rest were forced to use the community phone located at the front of the school if a simple call wanted to go out. In today's world, I live by a high school and drive by an elementary school on the way to work. The obvious fact is that every high school student has a phone with some form of headphones on the walk to school. What is the scary part is watching the elementary school students walk to school with phones in hand that are larger than their arm.

So lets talk about a event. At one point in middle school, yes middle school. Rumors were flying around that this one girl had naked photos that leaked. They were being passed like wildfire through text messages. Long story short, the girl switched schools. I don't know how those photos leaked, but that absolutely ruined that girl's life to the point she had to move schools.

As I got older and phones got stronger and in more pockets. Services literally launched that fueled this behavior. "{school} Crushes" on Twitter was an account that you could direct message a secret and it would publicly post it anonymously. The maintainer of that account obviously new the true owner, but kept those secrets reserved for those in the know. What that service actually became was anonymous bullying for any to take part in.

In college that service evolved to Snapchat and got even crazier. Instead of images and text it was videos and images. It devolved at times to the point that folks were filming themselves having sex. Who knows if both parties in those videos agreed to that or even knew, but it was just unbelievable. These videos went to hundreds near instantly on Snapchat and could be backed up forever. Those accounts got shut down as fast as they were made and like most things - spread like wildfire. Imagine being the girl that soiled her clothes drunk and was filmed from multiple angles and then shared to a Snapchat account that hundreds saved and mocked.

I fortunately grew up in a time in the early school years that when mistakes were made, the memories of them faded in the memory of the witnesses.

Current Events

In the event side of things. Does anyone remember the 2009 financial crisis? How many homes changed massively because of that? I can give you one example I remember - homes that became financially unstable started pushing that pressure onto the kids. With the idea that better grades would lead to better schools via scholarships which would lead to better salaries. What happens when you push a kid to the end forcing an extreme amount of studying to keep up with the demands?

I know for one kid I knew, the instant college started and the restrictions of being in the parents home was gone - she was committed to rehab in under a year taking up some hard drugs. You could take the approach that kids needed to be kids, exploring neighborhoods and making mistakes to learn from - not spending every waking moment perfecting homework.

Technology

Finally though, technology is adapting both in hardware and software at immense degrees that some of the younger generation can't handle. So let me bring up a little graphic I made.

Millennials were taught in school that you can't trust Wikipedia since anyone can edit it. They were also taught to not use their real name online since predators could stalk you. Yet the current generation has a Discord account with their real name in the profile to play Minecraft before 10 years old.

Prior to Millennials earlier generations are having to learn a technology that literally didn't exist in their era. How many Generation Z's have fallen for a spam email, fake pop-up or robotic account on social media? It simply doesn't happen, because this technology is ingrained in them unlike the previous.

Take Instagram, a pure dopamine rush for kids, particularly women who can scroll for hours seeing fake reality photo after photo. The longer you stay on the site - the more money you make the company - I blogged about this before. Kids grow up with these high beauty standards on each photo even though most are touched up. I'd estimate that girls make themselves miserable browsing social media and boys make other's miserable. This recipe for disaster for the young generation causes a warped perception of real life which leads down an anxiety ridden path.

The final segment I think could be summarized with just anxiety. Everyone and myself included just look at their phones. If you lock eyes with someone the natural reaction is to look away. Kids wake up checking how many likes they got or what new scandalous rumors were started. I don't think kids need that stuff until high school. I survived just texting friends and using AIM when home, the closest thing to Facebook was comparing buddy profiles attached to your AIM profile to see who had the most views.

Now who knows what the CDC will say in another few years. We've had a pandemic which changed so many things that will be difficult to understand until years of stats can be collected.

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