The Porcelain Generation?

On the heels of my most recent America column, Signal/Noise, which dealt with social media obsession, a friend sent me an essay from last week's New York Times titled "Looking for Intimacy in the Age of Facebook." It's a fascinating read. In the piece, Andrew Reiner--who teaches at Towson University--describes an exercise he does with students in which he requires them to send a text message to a friend that shares their true feelings about something this friend had done or said that upset them but hadn't discussed. Believe it or not it's actually intended as an exercise in risk taking. 

Reiner has discovered that his students are so preoccupied with texting and social media that it's become painfully apparent to him that--despite their numerous Facebook friends and likes--the undergrads he's encountering are disconnected from any real depth in their relationships. "This is a generation so consumed with surface connection they will do anything to appear connected" he says. "Including pretending to text when alone so they don’t look, as one student said, “like a total loser without friends.”


Instead of a literature or creative writing course, Reiner believed his students needed "a guide to the twisted subterranean landscape beneath their plugged-in social lives."

Reiner again:
"A small but growing body of evidence suggests that excessive social media use can lead to an unhealthy fixation on how one is perceived and an obsessive competitiveness. Perhaps not surprisingly, this angsting can also lead to an unhealthy quest for perfection, a social perfection, which breeds an aperture-narrowing conformity."

In other words, the group he's named "The Porcelain Generation" have an overabundance of digital bandwidth they can use, it's the emotional bandwidth they lack.

Definitely worth checking out here...

Also, Signal/Noise...

P.S.: Speaking of bandwidth, only in an issue dedicated to an historic interview with Pope Francis could a column on gay priests get so little reaction! ;)
Check it out here

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
4 years 4 months ago
My assessment is that human beings have not changed so to call the current youth, porcelain, is a misnomer. I am glad to see the question mark after it. What they are exposed to has certainly changed as I watched parents of young children approaching puberty worrying about just what their children will be exposed to. Social media is a two edged sword as we can easily see its benefits but like anything it has a very dark side. One local young girl was hounded into suicide by things published about her on MySpace a few years ago. School mates used photoshop to mock her. Teens have been delicate since the beginning of time and are not now more fragile. The tools for bullying have just gotten much more dangerous.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

If we have run, if we have been exposed for all the world to see, it is not our failure that matters most. It is Christ’s strength.
Terrance KleinMarch 21, 2018
A young girl sitting next to Pope Francis smiles during an audience with Special Olympics athletes participating in the Unified Football tournament, at the Vatican Oct. 13. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
“Maybe one day we will live in a world without disabilities. Wouldn’t that be perfect for modern-day Hitlers?”
Angelo Jesus CantaMarch 21, 2018
The Gaffigans have produced comedy specials, best-selling books and five children. They even survived a brain tumor. What have you done lately?
Bill McGarveyMarch 21, 2018
You have likely seen the profiles, the gifs, the memes, the television spots. But there is much that you have not seen.
Zac DavisMarch 21, 2018