23 thoughts on “What Happened in 2012?”

  1. Mass smartphone and social-media adoption happened around 2012. Could any other explanation be nearly as likely?

  2. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff would agree, and place the number at the HS graduating class of 2014 as hitting a new maximum. That is the first class that had devices from middle school on and had seriously reduced live interaction with peers, and especially people from even a few years difference, never mind all ages.

    Kyle came to us in 2009, 7th grade, and I chaperoned a field trip. All the girls and half the boys had devices. Girls would take selfies and send them to friends six rows up on the bus, giggling. I started to understand how thorough the penetration of this socialization is. You and I can shrug off an insult online, because we have personalities built for the world outside that. They do not have that luxury. The social world is happening on their devices. It is their aquarium and they cannot afford to neglect it. Frightening.

  3. There is no going back. It is frightening if one remembers how things used to be. The younger people know only the aquarium.

  4. The normal caveats about graphs apply as data can be massaged to say anything and I wasn’t able to find the data set(s) at SRC; however, my skepticism is tempered by the fact that a lot of Twenge’s work in the area is top-notch. She has been very influential on pushing the concept of iGEN, that is the generation that came of age with the introduction of smartphones.

    A few random thoughts.

    Building on what AVI said, the introduction of technology creates its own generations and accordant disruptions. I remember we had a discussion a few months ago regarding several models of inter-generational change (Strauss-Howe, Turchin…) One of the great disruptors is technology, you see this going back to the industrial revolution in the 19th Century as it and modernity in general dissolved traditional structures in a single generation. This happened not because the people themselves changed but because they were generationally replaced by those who were socialized under the technological regime.

    Second, the second big inflection point in 2020 is even sharper and is of course caused by the reaction to COVID. There are going to be a lot of pathologies working their way through our society over the next 20 years caused by shutting everything down for a year or 2 especially schools and physically isolating kids and making them interact with the outside world through cell phones is one of them. We are going to have. In the best case, a very large cohort of young people moving through society with all sorts of majadjustments. Also keep in mind that for some people that this is a feature, not a bug.

    Hopefully we will start to be more appreciative that kids are not some Rousseauian font of uncorrupted wisdom (St. Greta) but rather the introduction of potential of barbarians who must be otherwise nurtured and socialized. We are still living in both the youth culture of the 1960s and the technical arrogance of youth from the 1990s. No you are not wiser, more virtuous, and more technically with it because you are young and I’m not some dundering fool because I’m older. We do not help our younger people by catering to such fantasies.

    I think kids should be introduced at an early age to the wisdom that the civilization we live in is a thin, brittle barrier against the forces of barbarism and chaos.. I did enjoy an experience the other week walking by one of our better universities which was in the midst of a freshman orientation, in other words kids full of themselves. As I was waiting to cross a street I was met by a group of several such kids and one of them made a snide remark about my footwear. I looked at him, gave him a quizzical look, and said “Do I know you?” pause with the implication that he doesn’t and then I continued with a strong hint of menace “Then why are you speaking to me?” I believe I could have taken all 3, but I think I imparted the larger lesson that young people should be respectful to their elders, especially when those older people are strangers.

    There was a lot of appeal to authority fallacies during COVID, and even now, about how no one should criticize public health officials like Fauci for shutdown decisions because we weren’t doctors. Well I would like to learn from this experience and state that no one should be involved in public health decisions without at least some cross-training in economics or some other way of appreciating trade-offs

  5. In an early reaction to the introduction of the telegraph, a journalist remarked:

    “”This extraordinary discovery leaves…no elsewhere…it is all here.”

    Which, observing people lost to the world in their cell phones, inspired me to wonder:

    If wired communications reduced the sense of *elsewhere*, does the abuse of wireless communications reduce the sense of the *here and now*?

    Pretty clear, now, that it has indeed done so..

  6. Yet, I doubt that social media & cell phones are the *only* reason for the phenomenon shown in the chart. The sustained attack on America and indeed on civilization itself conducted by so many authority figures has surely had an impact. The election of Obama in 2008, when the youngest of the 2012 students would have been in 4th grade, was a milestone in this process. By the time of the 2020 surveys, all of the age groups surveyed would have spent their entire conscious lives in this toxic environment.

  7. The election of Obama in 2008, when the youngest of the 2012 students would have been in 4th grade, was a milestone in this process. By the time of the 2020 surveys, all of the age groups surveyed would have spent their entire conscious lives in this toxic environment.

    Obama could have been a positive influence, which is why so many white people voted for him. He chose to be divisive for political reasons (and maybe personal antipathy) and that has poisoned the society. Worse has been the pressure from teachers to denigrate kids’ self image.

  8. Interesting that 49.5% of students say “I can’t do anything right”, even though they have been brought up in an environment where everyone gets an A and a prize. It seems that the efforts in the schools to bolster self-esteem have not been successful.

    But turning this around, it could be a hopeful sign. Young people realize that they are being lied to by their teachers (and parents). Intuitively, they know the difference between real accomplishment and empty awards. That could be their first step on the long march to genuine accomplishments.

  9. My grandson, for example, has been interested in the military for years. At one time he wanted to try for a military academy appointment. Then I figured he would join the Army or Marines after high school. He is an athlete and 6-4 in height. The recent changes in military culture have decided him to be a firemen, like his father. He shows none of the psychopathology of that chart but has definitely been influenced by the changes in the culture.

  10. Gavin…”Interesting that 49.5% of students say “I can’t do anything right”, even though they have been brought up in an environment where everyone gets an A and a prize”

    One of my nephews was at school and they showed a video on the general theme ‘you are wonderful.’ He came home & said to my sister, “Mom, how do they know I’m so wonderful? They don’t even know me!”

  11. David,

    One thing I noticed when going back and reading Twenge (I see she has a new book out) is that there doesn’t seem to be a solid causal model linking social media and teen mental health. However here is an enormous amount of data that shows a correlation though that leaves certain gaps to be filled. One of them you and AVI alluded to, the mental and emotional state of Gen-Z kids in general. To say they are unprepared to swim in the deep waters of life is an understatement. The second is the effect of coail media on teen non-consumers, maybe there are studies I haven’t seen. Lids who don’t media or smartphones are still affected by them because their use drains the environment of social interaction. As one college student mentioned to me”It’s hard to talk to people in the cafeteria when everyone is on their phone.”

    There have been past scares about the effect of electronic media affecting our kids’ mental health (radio, TV, video games) but none are as pervasive in their use and portability as phones.

    Few other points

    If you go back to the 1990s right before Netscape, there was a lot of talk about how networked communications would change our world for the better by being able to interconnect people and things on the fly, I rmember sitting in the audience as Tim Berners-Lee gave his vision of a “network of things.” However that all assumed a certain type of personal character and development to utilize to make use of that technology. I’m reminded of a critique I read a while ago regarding those who helped the create the scientific revolution criticize the standing of the religion-infused Middle Ages and Renassiance not understanding that those epochs helped create the social conditions that made their revolution possible. Much like with releasing ill-prepared kids onto social media, being able to swim in the deep water takes proper structure and preparation.

    One thing I am worried about with phones and social media is the ability of algorithms and influencers to affect what you see. The past scare about technology (see above) have been about push while social media gives the patina of interactivity and choice. However we know now that Google and TikTok have tweaked their algorithms to control what you see without you knowing. Combine the massive collection of data that Google does with even more sophisticated AI and you can end up in a meditated social environment, a box, without ever being aware of it. Influencers? Well forget the wierdness of Dylan Mulvaney and Benny Cinema, the Democrats have made strong efforts to reach out to influencers to promote their policies.

    When I talk to parents I get the feeling that they feel they can no longer keep their kids safe from what they see as an incresingly toxic environment. To them it’s not just curriculum or grooming or things that are explicit but the implicit messaging of victimization and of social isolation of their peers. They see the problems with social media and cell phones but they realize that even if they remove them from their kids that they will still be in contact with a damaging environment. I think you will start to see more cultural “secession” as parents take advantage of new initiative in vouchers and homeschooling not so much to provide a better education for their kids, but to have a more healthy environment.

  12. Share of young adults who say they are ‘extremely proud’ to be Americans has declined from 43% in 2014 to 18% in 2023.

    Jacob Helberg says:
    “There is no doubt in my mind that TikTok, a CCP-controlled company and today’s largest distributor of news in America, has had an enormously corrosive effect on American national pride”…noting that TikTok was released in America in September of 2016.


  13. Seems relevant: A teacher, at Twitter, says:

    “Teaching Romeo and Juliet for a while now, and the most disturbing emergence and generational shift in the last handful of years is that kids no longer believe in love.

    This is a catastrophic development.

    Just underneath this is the inability for faith itself.”

    And another guy:

    “My best friend just quit teaching after the better part of 2 decades because of this. He just couldn’t take the, well, nihilism any more. His students believed in nothing, didn’t expect there to be any future, had zero ambitions of any kind. It was crushing his soul, so he left.”


  14. OTOH, searching ‘romeo juliet students’ at Twitter brought up a lot of other posts by teachers, few of which described that kind of negative experiences.

  15. First off: I’m surprised they’re still teaching Romeo and Juliet. All that cis-hetero sexuality has to be problematic from a DEI perspective. Surely, by now, some hack will have “re-imagined” it as Romeo and Tybalt. Maybe with some side action between Juliet and the nurse for good measure.

    Second: I’m disinclined to take anything from the educratic establishment at face value. I can make up endless scenarios allocating the student’s lack of motivation in different ways, but that would matter not at all.

    Adolescence is the period when the emotional governor gets calibrated. Adults used to understand that, at least most of them, and make allowances. Think about: “My mom’s going to kill me.” or “I’ll die if I flunk algebra.” from a 15 year old. Would you notify the police or a suicide hot line? Now it’s a question of whether you are legally required to.

    At the same time:

    Five people arrested for failing to notify the police about an alleged sexual assault that the parents and victim ultimately decided not to pursue.

    We used to have some faith in the judgement of teachers and other school personnel, now we have mandatory reporting laws. As I said, I find more and more reasons to doubt not just the judgement but the good faith of educrats as a group. In any event, teens now know that anything they say to a teacher or councilor is liable to be instantly reported to the police, which, predictably, removes this whole source of emotionally distanced, mature perspective from them.

    And now, with anti-social media and smart phones, most teens will be instantly notified whenever anyone in their contracted universe says anything bad about them, secure in the knowledge that everyone else in that universe will see it as well. I have to admit that every time I see a toddler engrossed in a tablet, I cringe. The idea that parents can somehow monitor their children’s social media is a joke. Whatever the parent can see will not be what the child cares about and that child will put your average drug cartel or national security organization to shame, making sure it stays that way. If I were a parent, I don’t know what I would do. Homesteading some place far from cell coverage comes to mind, but there’s the problem of making a living and now there’s Star Link.

  16. A trend that extends to far before 2012 might be that many more are only children than was the case previously. My relations with my brothers during those years couldn’t be described as placid by any means but I have no doubt that they are an inseparable component of who I became. There was also an element of us against them that provided a little padding and moral support around some of the rougher edges of social interactions.

    A world where children are rare, solitary yet always connected will be very different from the one we grew up in. A few others seem to have noticed.

  17. MCS…and if you don’t have any siblings, you miss out on any interaction with your sibling’s friends…which might be especially important in the case of opposite-sex siblings.

  18. Of course they’re still teaching “Romeo and Juliet.” It normalizes the “pro-pedo” argument, with even the anti-pedo side only saying “wait until 16.”

    Well, think of marriage now; younger than you,
    Here in Verona, ladies of esteem,
    Are made already mothers: by my count,
    I was your mother much upon these years
    That you are now a maid. Thus then in brief:
    The valiant Paris seeks you for his love.
    — Lady Capulet, speaking to Juliet about Paris

    But saying o’er what I have said before:
    My child is yet a stranger in the world;
    She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
    Let two more summers wither in their pride,
    Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.
    — Lord Capulet, speaking to Paris about Juliet

    (Also, it advances the agenda “Make the young hate Shakespeare, hate literature, hate reading for pleasure.” The only Shakespeare they’re taught is “Romeo and Juliet” – the one with the theme “Laugh at the young people because they are Stooopid” – plus one or two of the “serious” tragedies. No “Much Ado About Nothing,” no “A Comedy of Errors,” none of the good Shakespearean comedies.)

  19. Mileage varies on Shakespeare. I’d have hated being forced to read only the comedies.

    Partly because our own culture already insists on making a comedy of everything [action movies in the 90s went from incorporating humour in a played-straight scenario, which was good, to ostentatious and self-aware “blending of action and comedy”, which was a mixed blessing]. Actually, a caveat, for the past decade or so we oscillate between making a comedy of everything and making a dystopian nightmare of everything. But we still have the ‘everything must have comedy’ gene in us. As a teen I wanted to resist that, yet without turning into a Goth paranoid nightmare fetishist. Shakespeare had lots of middle ground material.

    Partly because the comedies even more than the dramas require facility with Shakespeare’s wordplay. Much more.

    And also because that kind of light romantic comedy of wit and manners is also something that tends to appeal more to the adult sensibility, at least back then and even now, if it even appeals to adults now since so many are superannated teens. Teens like sturm und drang or, alternatively, over the top physical and/or gross out comedy, a characterization that has held true for decades. What readiness there for the comedies you cite? Even I was not ready to appreciate them as a teen. I doubt many teens are today.

    I liked having to read Julius Caesar and Macbeth. Much more interesting stuff with more at stake in the plot and characters. Plenty of challenging words and concepts but not every scene or the whole plot relied on understanding every exchange of barbed wit on first reading. Plus events of world historical import and moral and political issues to discuss, seriously, if one wished it. Still today I will take no definite position for or against Caesar, nor for or against his assassins, when considering all their motives, actions, and the whole political and constitutional context. Even Macbeth, I can see many sides. More, in part, because I know Bill’s sources were lies on key points about what happened in 11c Scotland, and that he invented Banquo to be a fictional Stuart ancestor for James I.

    I did have to read Romeo and Juliet. Funny thing is, only as an adult do I see it in terms of “laugh at the young people because they are stupid”. And how. Idiot teens slave to their hormones going over the top with puppy love and real adolescent lust, failing to consider their futures, families, or politics, and even too stupid to refrain from suicide without at least being certain of the situation. Morons. And yet, no teen ever back in the day read it that way, and no teacher ever presented it that way or necessarily guided the analysis in that direction. I’m not sure even the cynics were that jaded.

    Almost any Shakespeare might make people hate literature or reading for pleasure if they aren’t ready to face literature with a few word challenges. [The comedies, per above, most of all.] I in high school knew someone who persistently referred to Shakespeare’s English as “Old English” and would not be persuaded that it was in fact early modern English, until presented with samples of Middle English and actual Old English, at which point their mind was briefly blown by the sudden onslaught of the immensity of even human time and the complexity of language and history. Even Shakespeare shouldn’t be so all-fired hard to a high-schooler whose native language is English and has made it to high school for reasons other than pure social promotion. It’s mostly the same and where there is an odd word or different usage, every text for many decades has provided foot notes. It is not hard to manage. Of course, many standard texts are from the mid-20th century, so they DO assume a high school population less stupid and lazy than today’s, or who had more demanding teachers, or faced higher expectations of prior reading and use of language, or all those factors.

    The impact of technology is very relevant here also. I don’t know how to deal with a population whose attitude to “reading for pleasure” hasn’t already been determined well in advance of high school.

Comments are closed.