Digital Drag and Discerning What’s Real

A review of Chris Stedman’s IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, and Belonging in Our Digital Lives (Broadleaf Books, 2020).

I was travelling in Germany for three weeks with students while reading Jean Twenge’s book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. It seemed like a good idea to read about this generation while spending an extended amount of time living with twelve of them. Among other things, Twenge convinced me that “iGen” was a better name for this cohort than the commonly used moniker Generation Z, which is of course a derivative generational marking – remember when the now-named Millennials were Generation Y? This GenXer does. 

The name comes from the fact that “members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. … iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010” (Twenge 2017). They have the distinctive experience of being the first to navigate adolescence and now emerging adulthood with a smartphone nearly always in their pocket and social media an ever-present factor of life.

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