Online Presence Distills Thought Into Code

iGen or Gen Z (my generation) is bad at handling conflict, and the declensions are telling: the primacy of the first-person, proliferated by Apple products, and the terminal letter of the alphabet. Our solipsism is bounded only by its conception that the universe also ends with us and therefore depends on us.

That is why, ironically enough, we steer clear of conflict, resent being in its midst and flounder painfully when inevitably faced with its resolution. It is a distinctly millenarian phenomenon, stemming from two things: helicopter parenting and, in my view, a filtered and screened-off universe. As parents increasingly shield their children from conflict, stepping in at the slightest intimation of friction or stymying social interaction in preemptive retreat, they generate an almost unconscious aversion to conflict. Their well-intended aegis is bulletproof, but the insidious evil of perfection comes from its naivety. 

And this reality has been well documented — parents raising their kids in a kind of ahistorical state, disallowing decisions and preventing the build-up of psychological scar tissue one needs in the real world. This could be a symptom of the moment, the progressive coddling of the American mind, or a reaction to the arduous childhoods some of our parents lived. Whatever the sociological rationale is, I think there is another massive contributor to my generation’s inability to agonize (in the traditional Greek sense of the word), and that reason is the screen.

The social isolation, the short-wavelength, emotional volatility and the erosion of the spoken word, all borne out of internet interaction, make conflict a near-impossibility. Conflict is an intensification of our day-to-day reality, a full-bodied, verbal volley that demands a rhetorical presence anathema to the comment-board’s unlimited time allowance. Faces redden, words dissolve on our tongue and fidgeting breaks the tide of thought. But this has always been a natural reaction to the potential embarrassment of argument; the issue now is that we are unable to override our ego’s fears and tap into the ego’s hubris. Internet existence not only deprives us of conversation, the real training ground for conflict communication, but etherealizes our arguments so that we never see them in human practice. The world now not only deteriorates our sophistication of thought, but more importantly, it deteriorates our sophistication of expression. Although writing texts and posting comments increases the volume of thoughts expressed, the Internet shorthand, paired with the absence of verbalization, places such thoughts into a realm altogether inhuman. They exist among the clouds, peppered with alien jargon and graphic pictures, forming a sort of code for thought. 

The consequence of our reductive pictograms is an increased difficulty generating or responding in real time to a complex argument. Pair that with the innate physical disincentives of conflict, and you create a generation that is slowly losing their language faculties. It makes sense why the Greco-Roman society lauded their great orators like Cicero. The verbal skills they possessed worked because language is the nearest human degree, and good oratory is hard to fake, especially since it usually involves embodiment, a physical conviction as well as a mental and spiritual one.

So, we need a history, our history, to dredge up every time we see conflict on the horizon. Our ahistorical language of the present, sustained by world-wary parents and Internet distillations, prevents us from compiling instructive experience, and retards the collective imagination. If we can’t look to our history, either because our parents won’t let us develop one or the pixels on the screen scramble its eloquence, my note of sedition might sound less of the Luddite and more of the suicidal. 

  • Hank Wordsworth

    My Kyle, My Donald

    O Kyle my dimpled boy
    Air of my abode
    In every word and motion
    Prophet of myself
    I sing of you at sunrise
    I dream of you in sleep
    And in the spring of your step
    I find the spring of mine
    Could you be more perfect?
    Could you be more wise?
    Could you displace The Donald
    As rapture of my life?
    O Kyle please don a MAGA hat–
    That would be a start.