The Screenie Generation

Not all kids are ‘screenies’ but and increasing number appear to abandoning corporeal life-lessons for virtual ones. The screenies have been furnished with iPads and Smart Phones which they carry around everywhere their parents go.

Media form-factors have homogenised the viewer into normality. Take a look at this photo of kids watching personal screens and compare that to the neo-evolutionary screenie who hides their phone in the hand, or conceals their ear-buds in a hoodie. The act of viewing hasn’t changed (passive watching), but the modality has. No longer do screenies have to suffer the boredom of visiting aunt Norma, subjected to passive adult-chit-chat as their parents did. Screenies will ask for the wifi password of every home they visit — and get it. Between Temple Run, Tower Defence and checking in with their Clash Clan, they will guzzle down YouTube channels on everything from cupcake obsessed mommy channels to the endless parade of Minecraft channels with sarcastic multi-millionaire presenters and millions of inter-channel connected shared-audiences.

Shows such as Big Bang Theory have embedded ‘insults and comedy’ as a cultural pass time. It is no surprise that the screenie generation are having a hard time understanding and applying their communication skills to the real world – as it once was and how parents generally believe it should be. The screenies don’t have deep and meaningful conversations JK embedded into the Harry Potter narrative, they are busy on Insta, Snap, Kick and FB Messenger – as their connection is more virtual than real – and it seems so are many of their ‘problems’.  They have been drip-fed sarcasm, insults and consumer culture and amongst each other, apply and re-apply with increasing severity as they approach fifteen or sixteen.

The worst of these is the Neo-Insult Comic. They believe someone needs to, and can be, humiliated on a large scale. They don’t believe they have to get into television or become a front page journalist to do this. The Insult Comic can take an online audience of people and get them to laugh at the unfortunate target – hashtag #boomcomedy.

A decade or more of instant access to YouTube, streaming TV series and movies has removed the once visible boundary markers of media watching. As a parent, it’s not possible to vet, monitor or even attempt to ‘ban’ media from the lives of kids. Kick her off Minecraft because you’re worried, and she’ll demand her iPad and watch YouTube (about Minecraft). Threaten to take away media and the tantrums begin — often acting as an accelerant for the negative-media images of power-struggles between family members and friends.

Screenies are very difficult to manage. There’s no roadmap for parents here either. While the previous generation needed a sofa and TV to watch DVDs, this one doesn’t. Regulation is much harder now than even five years ago. 4G data is cheap, fast and by the age of twelve or thirteen, having it is seen as ‘normal’.

I’m amazed however, that despite their access to media and a the section of teachers online who promote it’s totes awesomeness, screenies are fickly, self-indulgent and quick to throw tantrums if their media-hub is removed. From stats on my blog – it seems parents are looking for answers over ‘too much Minecraft’ where really the issue is too-much-media-culture inside a neoliberal society that guzzles down endless ‘reality’ renovation shows and cooking competitions in between binge watching Weeds and Sons of Anarchy on Netflix.

I’m not sure what the ‘cure’ is – aside from once again reminding parents that in Australia at least there is no media-education in schools, no curriculum and no teacher training. What is happening in schools is totally random and ad-hock. The border of bad-taste and inappropriate content is set often by an establishment that has never had success with it’s ‘banning’ and ‘filter’ approach. This might cover the school against future litigation over media-exposure and use, but don’t for a second think that it’s a ‘media eduction’ for this century. Kids skip around the filter and these days, most have 4G and don’t even bother with the local network.

The mobile devices are also symbolic. Media is everywhere and not something to be accessed (and critically appreciated) in certain locations, such as library, computer lab or family lounge room. Everything is media to the screenies. As a teacher, this is most noticeable when they are asked to do something that requires comparison, critical thinking or choosing one thing over another. They struggle to break free of their neoevolution-self which believes that typing “how do I” and “what is” into Google is how to get though the school day. Screenies live on a virtual-goat track. They roam back and forth between media-sites which feed their interest or are seen as ‘in group cool’. Occasionally some kid will show me something they made online, but mostly they show me things they’ve seen.

As I said at the top, not all kids are screenies and many kids are both screenies and sporty, screenie and academic. The question is what are they losing as a result of learning about the world around them though a globalised media phenomenon fuelled by adwords, remarketing and savage media bias in subscription channels which celebrate sarcasm and promote the narcissistic self. Being a ‘hater’ is seen as a valid form of social-expression, overlaid on TV media shows – and you can’t really be good-at-Twitter unless you’ve got something to hate-on these days.

There’s no point moaning and freaking out about the time she spends on Minecraft, without looking at the environment that creates and sustains it. Few parents are interested enough in media education to demand it in schools – and yet media education is increasingly fundamental to how kids are growing up. By media education, I mean actually knowing how media works, and why it is presented to them as it is – and that includes the role consumerism and advertising plays in media-diet. I have at least one screenie in my house … and it takes a lot of effort (and cost) to engage him in other activities. I am not at all sure I’m winning … but I’m very sure that his school-day won’t even be trying due it’s modernistic views organisation.