TMI (Too much information) — often used in social media and text messages — is but a gentle reminder for friends, by friends, to stop sharing way too much information, especially uncomfortable topics about one’s state of health, body, intimacy in relationships, or details that are offensive and unmentionable. One would always say, “Hey, TMI!” and redirect the conversation before it goes overboard. However, for people born after the year 2010, TMI has a much more serious connotation.
In a recent article published by The Brussels Times, titled ‘Glass Generation’ struggling with information overload, psychologists warn,’ educational psychologists have started calling children who are between around 12-13 years old the “Glass Generation,” as they are not only more transparent, but also more fragile. These young adults’ minds are impacted by information overload–also known as ‘infoxication’— such as the global health scare, the Russia-Ukraine war, the oil price hike, economic and domestic problems, and their uncertainty about their future in general, while living in an environment that is completely digitalized. These psychologists warn that they are, in fact, stressed with literally too much information. While digital technology makes them more aware of current world events, they have also become a generation that is contemplative but also more worried, agitated, and distressed. The more overwhelming information that they absorb from the internet on a daily basis and their lack of ability to process these increases their anxiety and angst.
Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock (one of our required readings back in college, during the time when we had no access to the internet yet), stated that when input surpasses the processing capability, information overload occurs, which diminishes the quality of the decisions. It means that when someone is given an overwhelming amount of information, the quality of their decision-making is reduced because of the individual’s inability to properly process this set of information, thus, causing mental and emotional distraught to the decision-maker.
Undeniably, the dawn of modern digital technology and social media are major drivers of information overload in numerous aspects, including the amount of information yielded, the depth and broadness of reach, and the span of time these young adults spend on their gadgets, or the so-called ‘attention theft.” The result is “infobesity,” or information saturation to an excessive degree, which could be very draining and devastating for their young minds.
I saw this in full display just recently.
While having lunch at a restaurant, I noticed a family—a young father and mother and three young sons, seated at a table next to mine. While waiting for their orders, the two older kids were busy playing video games on their smartphones, while the other was watching Tiktok and Facebook reels. Even when their food was served, the three were still gaping at their screens in between bites. Naturally, the parents were trying to talk them out of it to no avail. I then overheard the frustrated father sigh: “Kids these days…” I just shook my head. I realized that although the parents (and even some of us, GenX-ers and Millennials) had limited access to the internet back then, I am sure we all had our share of video games and other in-screen entertainment. We had arcade games, consoles, family computers, Game Boys, and DVDs and TV movies.
This only proves that, just like everything else, generational change is also picking up speed with the breakneck pace of technological changes. The older generations didn’t have this kind of digital excess 20 years ago; digital technology was merely developing in the 90s and early 2000s, and everyone else around this time was simply adjusting to digitization. However, as today’s generation entered the digital age, and especially after the pandemic’s unprecedented impact that disrupted the younger generations’ education and social lives—society became compelled to make digital their way of life. We now see more and more “digital natives” (persons born into the digital age) that thrive and survive in a milieu dictated by portable devices.
The bad news about ‘infoxication’
The Glass Generation’s intimate connection to digital technology is evident, given that the online space provides ready access to it. With merely a click or a swipe, they could acquire good or gory videos, movies, games, and information (or misinformation, depending on who’s serving the content) waiting to be clicked and watched on impulse. And since—despite internet accessibility, now compounded by fake news and disinformation—they do not know yet what their older siblings and parents know about the world and its complexities, they would probably be forced to sleep, while keeping their anxiety, depression, and frustration to themselves. Our children, siblings, niece, and the rest of the young ones are the Glass Generation; they are translucent but extremely brittle. With infoxication bombarding them from all sides, they wouldn’t be able to hold it all in, and the ‘glass’ might break.
While the use of digital devices could also develop highly technical skills and novel forms of communication, nothing can beat creative expression borne out of human or personal interaction. There is a major concern about children’s total dependence on digital technology, as it carries various risks for the kind of people these kids will become in the future. Their reduced attention span and concentration are only getting worse, thus making them less creative, less imaginative, and less sociable as compared to when they play with siblings and friends, over visual art, board games, and other physical activities that any gadget cannot promote or provide. While these online interactions may have undoubtedly helped them survive during the onset of the pandemic, researchers are noticing a parallel connection between social media addiction and unhappiness.
What needs to be done
The Brussel Times article stated that educational psychologists are discovering ways in which pedagogy can be redesigned to adapt to the specific needs of young people, and teach them how to process and countercheck information more efficiently. Educational psychologist Bruno Humbeeck advocates for the school to also evolve to cater to the modern needs of modern children. It is not enough to teach children the same way the older generation has been taught. Mentors should be able to ask children what they know, and from the information and opinions they have, teach them a world of knowledge from an older person’s perspective.
“The principle that should be taught to children and adolescents is to go deeper into this knowledge and understand the context,” Humbeek said. “New pedagogies will have to go in this direction: not to denigrate the multiple sources of information that young people use but to check each time where they come from, where they are going, and what they are,” he added.
Since education starts at home, the family should be attentive to this excessive information consumption through practical means such as limiting screen time strategy, spending quality time with children by watching videos or news together, or helping them research for a school task. Having a heartwarming talk with your children about things that bother them could also help them cope with the flood of information. As members of the older generation, we should all be sensitive enough to read between the lines when children ask for our opinions on certain world events, or information that they don’t seem to understand. Rather than rejecting these questions, we should encourage them to delve into each piece of information, then share with them positive insights.
It’s a fact. The children of the Glass Generation are obviously suffering from infobesity and infoxication, but they are sensible and smart. They are cognizant of what is happening around them, and they’re facing every problem head-on. They just need our help to get a grip on it, to be accepted, heard, and criticized constructively, so they will feel much better about themselves and the world.
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