A recent Vanity Fair feature explores the impact of social media on teenagers’ attitudes towards sex, and suggests that technology is to blame for young people’s increasing carnal disillusionment. “All men are basically whores,” is the message echoed by several adolescents interviewed throughout.
But as my mom emphasized when I called her, bawling, at age 21 — after my college boyfriend revealed he’d be spending an unthinkable amount of money ($2,500, memory says) to attend a party at the Playboy mansion rather than celebrate Valentine’s Day as a couple — “Not all men are like that, at least not forever.” The digitalization of our social lives seems to embolden assholery—in both sexes, arguably — but the main problem when it comes to teenagers isn’t that they’re plugged in; it’s that they’re young and dumb.
The argument behind the Vanity Fair story, which is a natural extension of the recent “hook-up culture” fixation, is certainly not without merit. The same online outlets that connect teens who share interests—or, more likely, find each other attractive—also allow them to disconnect with the click of a button and reconnect with someone else (in between cyberstalking their ex, maybe). At the same time, the warehouse of porn that is the Internet desensitizes youngsters—both emotionally and physically. Some girls feel intimidated into adopting a cavalier attitude towards cum shots, stripper poles, and orgies, lest they lose the attention of their male peers, who can easily tap someone else from their vast pool of online “friends” to masturbate with over Skype. Meanwhile, young men overexposed to free porn are developing outsized expectations and experiencing sexual dysfunction in increasing numbers—a phenomenon examined in greater depth by Gary Wilson in a TED Talk called “The Great Porn Experiment”.
While reading teens’ accounts of their social media driven lives, however, what stands out is not technology’s central role in their undoing, but the reality that these young people are just that: young—and, for that matter, a bit dumb. They’re largely preoccupied by popularity. And when it comes to love, they seek the instantaneous, eternal kind enjoyed by Twilight’s Bella and Edward without appreciating that, irl, Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson with an older man and the two have since parted ways.
It might be nicer to call the young people quoted inexperienced, but there’s no need for euphemism when referencing the universal rite of passage that is adolescence. Most of us are young and dumb at some point. It’s abnormal, in fact, to encounter an emotionally intelligent teenager. (I’d argue Teen Mom’s Catelynn and Tyler proved advanced beyond their years, but only because each experienced an unusual amount of adversity early on).
In the name of full disclosure, here’s a list of three of the dumbest things I did while young, in order of increasing stupidity. (Please feel free to share your own misadventures in the comments section.)
1. At 16, my best friend and I orchestrated a Chicken Fight tournament on the asphalt in her backyard. This seemed like a genius idea after taking shots of whiskey with two of the hottest guys in school. They were hot! It was daring! What could have gone wrong?!
2. As a sophomore in college, I hooked up regularly with a senior. To cope with his absence at the start of my junior year, after he had graduated, I did the only seemingly reasonable thing: I slept with his younger brother. (Still haven’t lived this one down.)
3. Early in college, I drank way too much at a house party thrown by a guy I was “quasi-seeing” and ended up passing out on his couch. When I woke up around 5am, I had whipped cream and dry oats all over me. There was an arrow drawn in Sharpie on my right thigh pointing towards my crotch, beneath which was written “this way.” My forehead read “wasted.” For whatever reason, I was more amused than upset by this. So I went upstairs and had sex with my hookup buddy, who had probably raided the kitchen in search of condiments to smother me with hours earlier.
Granted, I was spared the embarrassment of indelible Facebook posts and Tweets about my antics. But I was definitely the subject of some nasty, analog gossip. Maybe technology hinders the maturation process by empowering people to act more terribly for longer periods of time than they otherwise would. But it seems just as likely that young people might mature faster by fucking up more spectacularly and learning from the difficult, digital ramifications of their mistakes. Or, that they might be petrified by the prospect of permanently Google-able consequences into behaving better to begin with.
Some, of course, are bound to remain questionable humans for life. There are jackasses and nice guys at every age, on every block. But in general, it seems silly to lament the next generation’s demise at the hands of social media in the way we once bemoaned the detrimental influence of novels, video games and television on impressionable youngsters. The good news about being young and dumb is that most people grow out of it.