Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

A little click-baity title, but there is some good statistical data in the article. And I liked the spirit in which it was shared:

The aim of generational study, however, is not to succumb to nostalgia for the way things used to be; it’s to understand how they are now. Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both.

The answer is: yes; they are not tricorders. :slight_smile:

Thanks for sharing. @tim, which age do yer kids get devices?

Oh snap, for everyone: how old were you when you get a smartphone?!

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

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We let my parents get my two oldest kids a tablet each when they were 5 and 6, but the only thing it can do is ebooks.

As for actual communication devices… I am not sure. I have a gut feeling that 12 is a decent age to start wading in those waters with your parents as a guide, but I don’t really know. It really seems like the question is more: “When are kids ready to wade into the internet?”

@maiki what age are you thinking for your kiddo?

I got my first mobile phone when I was 18, a nokia brick and it was awesome. My first smartphone was when I was ~23, and it was for work. Motorola Q!!


Most days I tell C e can have a device when e is clever enough to obtain one and keep it secret from me.

Only about 10% of that is a joke.

Fortunately, Clover really likes how I am: e sees my passion for knowledge as something different from others, and tries to emulate my rage at the current state of warez freedom, but this morning e had 2 solid reasons e should listen to podcasts before breakfast, so I’m not sure how it’s gonna pan out…

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Kind of a gradient with me.

Had been dabbling with PalmOS devices in early college. On the cusp of my twenties. I had no cellphone period for the first half of college, they were still kinda a luxury item in my geography. In some ways moreso than a PDA.

I had a few phones within three to four years of that which were sort of bordering on PDA meets Cellphone but were kind of on the cusp of being smartphones. All on pay as you go sort of plans. They were produced by a company now defunct called Helio. Still firmly pre-android. Though I was reading RSS feeds with them and checking email, and fumbling with mobile web gateways.

Would have liked a PalmTreo but they were expensive as were the plans.

I bought a friend’s HTC Dream off them three years or so after that.

Which would have been my late twenties on the cusp of my thirties.

Kinda guessing the PalmOS devices would have been “more tricorder like” for ya.


One of the ironies of iGen life is that despite spending far more time under the same roof as their parents, today’s teens can hardly be said to be closer to their mothers and fathers than their predecessors were. “I’ve seen my friends with their families—they don’t talk to them,” Athena told me. “They just say ‘Okay, okay, whatever’ while they’re on their phones. They don’t pay attention to their family.” Like her peers, Athena is an expert at tuning out her parents so she can focus on her phone. She spent much of her summer keeping up with friends, but nearly all of it was over text or Snapchat. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

Emphasis mine. I don’t think this will happen in our family, but reading it here makes it seem non-obvious: we don’t allow devices at dinner or gathering times. Devices are like books: you wouldn’t open a book at glance at a page when talking to another person.

That said, there are definitely times where Clover feels left out, such as when adults are doing mobile logistics, which means and like of checking and replying. But it is also so apparent that C is reacting to feeling left out.

Lastly, my kid will lose their devices so fast if they pulled that shit I emphasized above! We aren’t going to check out on each other.

Thinking on this, I realized now that my parents would have probably loved smartphones, and maybe my life would have been better had my family be able to check out. The anxiety and trauma, maybe it could have been… hmmm, mitigated? Nah, can’t think about bullshit answers to bullshit questions.

I feel compassion when I am present, that’s enough for me.

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Oh man! I didn’t know we could count Palm Pilots! I had a Palm Pilot III and I loved it! I had a super, duper dorky belt / holster thing for it.

And totally concur on the Treo. I also wanted one, but too pricey.

I kind of feel like Cellphones and PDAs kind of did a convergent evolutionary path; so mentally to me they seem relevant to each other.

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I’d say that gradient is where @tim lands, too! C’mon! Motorola Q? Is that really a smartphone? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I used a plethora of PalmOS devices! Even as all my peeps were getting Crackberries (vernacular of the time). I used to actually carry a single copy of my contacts and calendar in my pocket! I didn’t have a computer to sync it to. :slight_smile:



Also, remember how awesome Kyle’s Quest looked? It’s now available via!


In terms of PalmOS gaming, had a friend who actually bought the Tapwave Zodiac (same one I bought the HTC Dream off of.) He finally sold it off a year or so back. I half regret not buying it then.


The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

– Often attributed to Socrates.

I sometimes struggle with how real this “technology is destroying a generation” thing is. Not to say the current tech landscape isn’t a dumpster fire. I firmly believe it is.

But I know for example how easy my computer and BBS, later dialup internet made it for me to tune out my family as a teen. My emotional makeup at that age likely needed something to obsess over to ignore a lot of painful emotional stuff that was happening to me too.

I also know how quick and falsely we are as a culture and mayhaps a species to decide the youth are being ruined.

It’s also likely because it is a dumpster fire that it is having some impact. I just don’t feel like we are culturally well calibrated to ascertain the degree.


I feel similarly. It’s why I like the spirit in which the author shared the data (in the quote in my first post).

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Other thought: Also while this is aimed at a specific generation. I would be surprised if some of the correlations like time with social media correlating high with depression isn’t mirrored in adults. I seem to recall a few studies elsewhere making similar claims.

From my personal experience I can tell you that this is 100% true for me.

What is interesting though is there are some social media things that were nothing but very good for me. For example, I met maiki through playing CounterStrike, being in the same clan, and basically living in our clan forums for 4 years. Those forums were like a home for me, in the best possible way. @maiki we should write a piece on the EGBT experience!

Another good experience is this discourse instance! I never have that feeling of “I just wasted my time” after visiting here and communicating. I do get that feeling if I ever go to the bird site.

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The observable changes in children are severe with devices.

Adam (of Ruins Everything fame) has a filmed presentation going back to that Socrates attribution, and basically tracks it to today, and each generation is called the worse.

I’d say put that aside for a second. We evolved to not get eaten by means of processing data and responding appropriately. Devices, particularly smartphones, mess that up. We are moths to the LED flame.

From caring for lots of children, before and after smart devices, anecdotally I’ll say: devices are like any other stimuli, except incredibly, dangerously effortless. One doesn’t run out of energy or attention, there is no transition, no balance. A form of addiction, when their brains are mapping basic reality.

I don’t think the kids are getting worse, just that the reason we have an “attention economy” is because we are creatures whose reality is based on “attention”, genetically. We should be very careful without ourselves.

This is a point I haven’t thought of before. When I was 10 I got my Gameboy, and of course I loved it. However, you got 6 hrs of gametime for 4 AA batteries. I only had so many batteries and eventually a rechargable pack. But still, I’d limit myself to no more than 1.5hrs at most a day, because needed to stretch it out!

If I could have had ~8 hrs of usage and easily recharge every night… yikes.

That’s actually a different point than I was noting, and I want to add to that: yeah, games generally don’t have endings anymore. I suppose it was a combination of game design limitations and “lives” as a health system. They basically want you to play them as long as possible, rather than for some amount of time and stop.

I actually recall that being a sore point about early console RPGs: they encouraged marathon sessions that folks thought unhealthy.

Anyhow, I think that, but what I meant was: kids don’t run out of energy!

A reductionist view of child-rearing would be energy management. We feed kids every couple hours, they are burning through calories as their job.

But devices encourage stationary positions, tells our bodies to shut down and conserve energy. In adults that can affect them, but is balanced with other regards, personal activities, obligations, etc. Children are directed. Without direction, their bodies aren’t learning to be active, their learning to conserve energy, at the time when it should be active.

Also, kids just get shitty after “screen time”. :slight_smile:

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I think it might be useful to not conflate open ended game design too with the toxicity of things like ongoing “user engagement”.

Open ended sim sandbox games like Sim City have been with us forever and are part of the former; and I suspect (in their earlier incarnations) not part of the problem.

Engagement is the warning word I watch out for.

I would contend games without end are not the problem. Games that try to hook you such that you wont stop playing are. You can usually identify them because the treadmill is their economic model.