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  • Victor C. Bolles

Woke Pathology

 




Sipping on a cup of coffee while CNBC’s Squawk Box played on the TV the other day, I was snapped into focus when the hosts (Sorkin, Quick and Kernan) started interviewing Bradley Tusk on the topic of Social Media Anxiety in Teens. I had just finished reading Jonathan Haidt’s new book, The Anxious Generation, and was pondering how to discuss this topic in my next commentary.

 

Mr. Tusk, CEO of Tusk Ventures and a frequent commentator on Squawk Box, noted that Wall Street Journal Family and Tech Columnist Julie Jargon had recently published an article on a new friend ranking feature now available on Snapchat+ (Snapchat’s Friend-Ranking Feature Adds to Teen Anxiety, March 30, 2024). The app uses a solar system metaphor and ranks a teen’s friends by how often they communicate. Your bestie is a Mercury, closest to the Sun. But if you are a Neptune you are a nobody. Get lost!

 

The app is designed to lure teens into using Snapchat even more, similar to the promotion of Snap streaks that encourage kids to do nothing but use the app (even if the streak continues late into the night). The new feature is already wreaking havoc among teens prompting Squawk Box host Becky Quick, mother of a teen, to uncharacteristically call out Snap CEO Evan Spiegel saying, “Seriously, Evan Spiegel, if you’re listening, you’re a jerk. Stop it.”

 

Mr. Tusk noted during the discussion that young people in America are very unhappy and that 30% of teenage girls have considered suicide and that a Harvard study found that 61% of teens have low self-esteem, laying the blame squarely on social media.  Jonathan Haidt, a NYU professor of social psychology, provided much greater detail in his book, The Anxious Generation. Further, Dr. Haidt noted that there had been a great upsurge in teen anxiety and depression since the introduction of the smart phone around 2010.

 

He calls this upsurge in anxiety, depression and suicide the Great Rewiring of Childhood. Before the Smart Phone access to the Internet was usually from a family computer located in a public area in the house. Some kids may have had access to laptops or iPads back then but those were usually linked to a Wi-Fi network at home or school. The smart phone liberated kids from this public linkage. Unlike other cell phones that were limited to talk and text, the smart phone opened up the entire Internet to kids. Portability allowed access anywhere a kid might go, at school, at home, in the bedroom, wherever. And whenever. During school lunches, after school, late at night. Always on a screen, ignoring the person next to them.

 

Dr. Haidt attributes the rising psychological problems of our youth to four factors: social deprivation, sleep deprivation, attention fragmentation and addiction. Each of these factors are made exponentially worse by smart phones. When you and I grew up (way before smartphones) we would go outside and play with our friends. Dr. Haidt calls this a play-based childhood. But this play-based childhood has been replaced by a phone-based childhood. But, like puppies and kittens, play is an essential element in how young animals become adult animals. The lack of a play-based childhood and the socialization and risk-taking it involves leaves kids unprepared as they enter adulthood.

 

You have to keep in mind that your teenager (along with you and the rest of your family) are not the customers of Snap, Facebook or TikTok. You’re the product. The customers of these platforms are the advertisers willing to pay them billions of dollars to get access to you. The dairy farmer is not that interested in the cows, only the milk. That is his product. But a smart dairy farmer realizes that he needs healthy contented cows to assure the continued production of milk. Social media platforms also do not care about its product producers (your teens) but assuredly does not want them healthy and contented. The platforms want their producers to be needy and addicted. This addicted screen scanning is exactly what the advertisers are eager to pay for. But this is not good for the producers (your teens) and it is not good for the nation. Anxious, depressed people do not make good citizens. They are not productive, they don’t drive economic growth.

 

There are a number of attempts to ameliorate this situation. The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) attempts to address these issues but has languished in Congress for two years. Platforms have the resources (Meta Platforms market cap is $1.35 trillion) to lobby against any attempt to limit their power. Dr. Haidt has four recommendations to help our kids. No smart phone before high school, no social media before 16, phone-free schools and more unsupervised play and childhood independence. Parents can implement these reforms themselves but it would tend to isolate their kids if other parents did not also join in these reforms so he recommends forming parents groups to create a community of people supporting the psychological health of our children.

 

We cannot entrust our kids health and well-being to the benevolence of politicians or tech giants. So, we will just have to do it ourselves.

 

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Social media addiction coincided with the trend in American parenting of overprotecting our children, what Dr. Haidt calls safteyism which he discussed in his book, The Coddling of the American Mind (written with Greg Lukianoff, President of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)) even though crimes and violence against children had been declining for decades. The result has been the overprotection of children in the real world where they need the experiences in order to become well-adjusted adults and a lack of protection in the virtual world which has become the playground of adult perverts that inhabit these platforms.

 

As Dr. Haidt said, “We decided the real world was so full of dangers that children should not be allowed to explore it without adult supervision, even though the risks to children from crime, violence, drunk drivers, and most other sources have dropped steeply since the 1990s. At the same time, it seemed like too much of a bother to design and require age-appropriate guardrails for kids online, so we left children free to wander through the Wild West of the virtual world, where threats to children abounded.”

 

Many of the beliefs of our young people that result from the psychological pathologies of social media addiction mirror the pathologies of the progressive woke ideology. Of course, young people tend toward leftism until their frontal lobes develop and they actually have to earn a living, pay taxes  and raise a family.

 

Woke ideology (for the lack of a better name) is not a philosophy or ideology in the normal sense but rather an amalgam of various schools of thought that have little in common other than a visceral hatred of Western civilization and free-market capitalism. It began with the postmodern rejection of a western civilization based on objective truth and the scientific method as propounded by the pedophile philosopher Michel Foucault which joined with the convoluted legal concepts of Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory, both offshoots of Marxism attempting to explain the failures of communism and socialism across the globe. Add in identity politics, welfare dependency and broken families and you have woke ideology. It is more of a pathology than a philosophy or ideology, a bizarre rationalization that attempts to blame failure of some on the success of others.

 

The origins of woke ideology predate the upsurge of phone-based anxiety and depression of young people in America and the West . The onslaught of diversity, equity and inclusion programs in schools, universities, corporations and government is conducted by adults of another generation that should know better. But the mass psychosis afflicting hordes of young people protesting the treatment of murdering terrorists dovetails nicely into woke’s rejection of objective truth. But the left is not alone is rejecting objective truth. The MAGA obsession with QAnon and other conspiracy theories is equally bizarre and reflects a similar rejection of objective truth.

 

The divisive partisanship afflicting America and much of the West these days, is at least partially driven by mass psychosis. These are not the people we want running our country.

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