A major new survey of nearly 16,000 young adults aged 18 to 35 years old living in 25 countries around the world turned up numerous positive trends but it revealed some genuinely worrisome news as well.
The survey — entitled “The Connected Generation” — was conducted collaboratively by World Vision, the Washington-based “global Christian humanitarian organization” for sponsoring a child, and The Barna Group, the California-based demographic research firm, and was released last month.
The genuinely worrisome news coming out of the survey is the extraordinarily low number of respondents who “often feel deeply cared-for by those around me” (33 percent) and who “often feel someone believes in me” (32 percent).
And that’s not all. Twenty-eight percent reported being “sad or depressed,” 23 percent “lonely and isolated from others,” and 21 percent “afraid of violence.” In other words, anywhere from one-fifth to two-thirds of the survey respondents face huge emotional challenges.
“When respondents had an opportunity to provide a portrait of their emotions, the image is one of a generation gripped by worry,” Barna said of the survey results.
“Anxiety about important decisions is widespread (40%), as well as uncertainty about the future (40%), a fear of failure (40%) and a pressure to be successful (36%).”
“When respondents had an opportunity to provide a portrait of their emotions, the image is one of a generation gripped by worry.”
And why should anybody working on Capitol Hill care about these survey data, other than out of a general sense of interest and perhaps concern?
Well, the survey wasn’t titled “The Connected Generation” by accident. And the age group surveyed accounts for the majority of congressional staffers, so odds are these are not unfamiliar problems on Capitol Hill.
This latest survey is focused specifically on the generation growing up almost entirely in a digital world. Plus, the World Vision/Barna Group survey also tracks closely with a couple previously reported here on HillFaith. Something is happening, particularly in Western society, to which we do well to pay particular attention.
Is social media the problem? Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame, one of the original and most successful bloggers (and a University of Tennessee law professor, book author and USA Today columnist to boot), recently published a monograph-length book — The Social Media Upheaval — that makes a highly persuasive case that social media is indeed having widespread ill societal and related effects, based upon multiple academic and other sources.
Chief among those ill effects are the encouragement of a sense of isolation amid a supposed wealth of “Likes” and “Friends” and “Followers.”
Fear of a lack of acceptance and connectedness among peers has always been a problem in adolescence, of course, but the evidence increasingly suggests that social media both heightens it among young folks and extends it into older age groups as well.
“Why is there life? Why are you here? What is your purpose in life? What happens when you die? If you cease to be when you die, what’s the point of anything in this life other than maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain?”
My thought here is that the current debate in Congress about censorship by Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants is merely the opening skirmish in what is likely to be a long national debate about the proper place of social media in American society.
But I would also suggest that the essential foundation to finding the solution must begin in the human heart, not the digital device or in law-making.
More specifically, Jesus Christ said He came that we might “have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV). Why is there life? Why are you here? What is your purpose in life? What happens when you die?
If you merely cease to be when you die, what’s the point of anything in this life other than maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain? Are we mere molecules and material processes governed by chance, or beings endowed with ultimately spiritual qualities like love and laughter and courage?
Until we find convincing answers to those fundamental questions, there will always be — at least when we are absolutely honest with ourselves about ourselves — a sense of incompleteness, hollowness, and loneliness, except in those temporary reprieves found in accumulating wealth, addictions like booze and drugs, selfish sex, and the hundred other ways we try to fill that hollowness.
Only Jesus can replace that sense with the truth about living the “abundant life” in answer to those questions above. I’d love to share with you about how He did that for me and how He can do it for you as well.
Check out the Office Hours in the sidebar to the right. Coffee is on me. And if you would like to get a head start on the conversation, give this backgrounder a read.