The Internet. Smartphones. Global warming. Terrorism. A polarized government. Teenagers today. These new and frightening phenomena are not to be taken lightly, say researchers. A number of new studies, conducted with different methodologies, come to the same conclusion: we’re really in trouble now.
Certainly, the sense that we’re really in trouble is nothing new. Ancient Romans believed their society was heading in a dangerous direction—and, as it turns out, they were right. Japanese in the age of the shoguns believed that new technological developments would leave them worse off than before; they were only partially correct. Since the colonial era, there’s been a longstanding tradition of Americans warning that our nation has jumped the shark.
Given this history, some observers say that current concerns about the world going to hell are to be expected—that these new fears are just more of the same. Researchers, though, say that this time it’s for real: it’s all over but the shouting.
Why? Well, for one thing, there’s the Internet. That’s relatively new, and it seems to be taking a lot of our time. Given that the world seemed to be getting better in many ways before the Internet came along—the Cold War ended, the economy boomed—it’s only reasonable, say researchers, to blame the Internet for everything bad that’s happened since the 1990s. The fact that the Internet is increasingly accessed via ubiquitous portable devices can only be amplifying the Web’s pernicious effects, they add.
Then there’s global warming. It’s too late to turn back on that one: glaciers are melting, permafrost is releasing carbon dioxide, and the ozone isn’t doing anything to help matters. Previous generations had the threat of nuclear war, note researchers, but that doomsday scenario was only hypothetical. This apocalyptic scenario is less preventable. So there’s that.
Terrorism. That’s happening. We defeated the Axis powers in World War II, but we can’t defeat terrorism. Everything we do pisses someone else off, and researchers note that the prisoners being held at Guantanamo are actually not the only people in the world who might conceivably want to do terrible things to us. The government can’t protect us: our politicians are too busy running Super PACs and glaring across the Capitol aisle at one another. All the bipartisan softball games in the world can’t reform campaign finance and install the sort of parliamentary system that might be necessary to remedy the widening gulf between parties.
Finally, there are teenagers today. Basically everything bad in the world that can’t be blamed on any of the above problems can be—and is, and should be—blamed on teenagers. When we’re not justifiably blaming teenagers, note researchers, we’re depressing them with rueful yet accurate remarks about the astounding debt they’ll have to pay down—unless they somehow manage to pass it on to their children, who it’s unlikely they’ll even have, for the reasons mentioned above and also because they only care about sex and smartphones and don’t want any responsibility ever.
Is there anything to be done about this? Is there no hope for the survival—let along the thriving—of American society? Researchers meet those questions with silence, and with ominously pursed lips.