Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in The Atlantic titled, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Normally, these alarmist headlines tend to make me skeptical, but the subhead pulled me in: “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.” That sentence rang true to me (and, as a father of four post-Millennials, tweaked all kinds of inner fears), so I dug in for a long read.

The article – and forthcoming book, iGen – paints a picture of a dramatic shift in teen behaviors and emotional states. The author, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has been studying generational data for decades and has never seen anything like it. “Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states,” she writes. “The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear.”

“The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, 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.”

If that sounds like the demographics in your household, pay attention. Twenge argues that the smartphone, certainly among other factors, has played a defining role. The data pivots in 2012, the same year when more than 50% of them owned a smartphone. The impact on their activities and behavior has been dramatic, both for good and for bad. Some examples:

  • They’re less likely to get into a car accident (because they’re less likely to be driving – 25% finish high school without a driver’s license)
  • Less likely to drink alcohol
  • Less likely to have sex
  • Less likely to spend time hanging out with friends (the number of teens who get together with friends nearly every day has dropped 40% from 2000 to 2015)
  • Less likely to leave the house without their parents (12th graders in 2015 were going out less often than 8th graders in 2009)
  • Less likely to date (in 2015, only 56% of high school seniors went out on dates, for Boomers and Gen Xers, it was 85%)
  • More likely to feel lonely
  • More likely to be sleep-deprived
  • At higher risk for suicide

So what are they doing with their time? “They are on their phone, in their room, alone and often distressed,” Twenge says. One of the teens she interviewed for the book told her, “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.”

Sound familiar?

But the frightening thing is the impact it’s having on them. You might think that spending all this time on Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook would be making them happy, but everything points in the opposite direction.

The Monitoring the Future survey has asked 12th-graders more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and queried 8th- and 10th-graders since 1991. The results are clear: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

“There’s not a single exception,” Twenge writes. “All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.”

“When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness and depression are more common. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%, while those who play sports, go to church, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly. Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.”

The article continues to paint a compelling (and gloomy) picture, and it’s very worthy of reading and will hopefull spark some engaging conversations. The statistics seem beyond reproach: just spend a few minutes with this chart, and you’ll see how these trends are intensifying. But with this awareness comes understanding, and understanding can provoke action. We need to help them better understand the long-term impact and encourage them to limit time and use.

There is hope. The data indicates that any reduction in the amount of time spent on devices has a positive impact. The challenge is to make it happen.

Twenge suggests, “The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. As the technology writer Nick Bilton has reported, it’s a policy some Silicon Valley executives follow. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.”

An Oregonian Whirlwind Trip: From city to coast to desert to mountains

Having never been to the Pacific Northwest (and being mildly jealous of Ben’s photos from his trip), Char and I hopped a Frontier Airlines flight and landed in Portland. The idea was simple: spend a few days seeing as much of the Oregon landscape as possible.

To pull this off, we were going to put a few miles on the rental car and the hiking shoes: by the end of the week, we’d covered roughly 900 miles driving and 50 miles walking.) I had planned to go from Portland to the coast along highway 99W and arriving somewhere near Lincoln City, but we couldn’t bear the thought of missing Cannon Beach. So after spending a day roaming around Portland (the Rose Test Garden, the Japanese Garden, a small farmer’s market, and a great dinner at Southpark Seafood), we started Monday with a quick stop at Blue Star Donuts and headed for the coast.

Monday: Portland – Cannon Beach – Bandon

This was a long day, punctuated by a few fun stops and some beautiful Oregon coastline. Arriving at Cannon Beach, we drove a couple miles north to Ecola State Park and jumped out and started hiking. We hiked from the main parking area to Indian Point Beach, where surfers and kids alike were all decked out in full wetsuits. Stunning place and one of the best views of Cannon Beach available.

From there, we drove nearly the entire length of the Oregon coastline, stopping for essentials like coffee and food and to gaze in wonder at one postcard-worthy overlook after another. At some point, you get a little numb to just how beautiful everything is. Keep in mind: the weather you see in all of the photos below was in one day, often within minutes. With the marine clouds blowing in from the sea, the sky could quickly and easily go from completely gray to azure blue (and back again) in moments. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Tuesday: Bandon to Crescent City

After wandering around town and having breakfast, we stopped by Bandon Beach before getting on the road to Crescent City, California. Bandon might be the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen, dotted with enormous haystack rocks from from volcano activity eons ago.

From the beach, we fell into “overlook postcard mode” again as the marine clouds poured in from the ocean and into the hills and the weather changed from temperate rain forest to beautiful blue skies… and back again. As we got closer to California, the sky turned blue and stayed that way.

Arriving in Crescent City, we took a quick break and then set out for Jedediah State Park to walk among the giant Redwoods. It’s hard to explain how big a one of these trees actually is, but these might help:

One tip: We walked a couple of the few paths in the park and stopped in Stout Grove before leaving. Stout Grove is a small loop trail very near the parking area and really shouldn’t be missed. Behind the grove is the Smith River, and there is a sort of extended walking bridge across the river to access a campground. It was a beautiful, quiet place to spend some time.

Smith River Bridge

Wednesday: Crescent City – Crater Lake – Bend

We were on a schedule for Wednesday: we needed to cover the mileage from Northern California up to Bend and be there in time to meet our guide for a moonlight canoe tour. Along the way, we stopped to gape at Crater Lake National Park. If you’re ever close enough to decide if you should go see it: Go see it. You won’t be disappointed.

At Crater Lake, we hiked up the Garfield Peak Trail, which leads away from the lodge and up into a spectacular overlook. The trail is a little sketchy in parts and definitely steep, crossing over snow fields and through rocky switchbacks. It takes about 90 minutes to get to the top, but the scenery is worth every step.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Early in the morning, while out walking along the beach, I spotted Bigfoot (top left corner, click for larger image):

Bigfoot Sighting

We arrived in Bend just in time to meet up with the tour group at Wanderlust Tours. Boarded a bus and drove about 45 minutes to a special lake that Courtney, our guide, had chosen. Along the way, she told stories about the area wildlife and geology. As a Naturalist, she had a deep knowledge and appreciation for this beautiful state and was eager to share it with us. Along the way, we passed a volcanic dacite flow that looked like it happened a few years ago, when in fact it had been nearly 2,000 years. “A lot of things you encounter out here look like they just happened. Things like forest fires and volcanic remains have a strangely recent appearance, but it’s very deceiving,” she said. The dacite flow was a perfect example.

It’s hard to get a photo on an iPhone from a canoe at dusk, but this shot of Mt. Bachelor in the distance and the sunset from the front of the canoe are close to how it looked. It was incredibly peaceful being on the water in full dark.

Thursday: Smith Rock State Park to Mt. Hood

Before leaving the tour, I asked Courtney if there was anything we absolutely had to see in Bend. Without hesitation she replied, “Smith Rock.” I’m so glad I asked, because this internationally renowned state park – widely considered to be the birthplace of rock climbing – was one of the highlights of the week.

We spent the morning in Bend, wandering the shops, drinking coffee, sitting on the river bank, so we arrived at Smith Rock around 2pm. We sort of missed the point that we had fully moved from coastal region to high desert, and were slightly unprepared for the heat that accompanied us on this hike. In retrospect, it would have been better to get here early in the morning, but I really wouldn’t have traded our time in Bend, either.

So we filled up the water bottles, looked over the map, and set out on Misery Ridge Trail. It was very hot, very dry, very steep, and very, very beautiful.

Leaving Bend and Smith Rock behind, we hit the road bound for the historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. As we drove into the mountains, the weather turned, shrouded the peak in clouds. The temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees as we drove, and arrived at the lodge in a misty rain.

Even so, the Timberline is a sight to behold. Built as a WPA project and dedicated by FDR in 1937, the entire building is an homage to the perseverance and craftsmanship of the American worker. Sitting at the base of the summit, it’s one of the few places (maybe the only place?) in the US that has snow all year, so it’s a popular destination for ski teams around the world to come and practice. While we were there, in addition to the many local ski schools, there were teams from Canada, Italy and the Netherlands. Skiers and snowboarders roamed the ground, and from the back of the lodge you could just make out the halfpipe above on the mountain.

The weather was typically temperamental, quickly changing from sunny to foggy to misty, so we roamed around the lodge, at two exceptional meals, and headed out of Friday morning.

Friday: Mt. Hood to Portland

Looking back, we made two tactical errors and, unfortunately, they were both on the same day. Leaving Mt. Hood, we passed the trailhead for Mirror Lake Trail, a beautiful uphill walk through the evergreens to a lake that provides beautiful views of Mt. Hood. You have to have a pass to use the trail, and they don’t sell the passes at the trailhead. (They do have them at Timberline and Government Camp, just up the road.) But we didn’t have the time to backtrack, so we missed out. (As cloudy as it was, I’ve convinced myself that we wouldn’t have been able to see anything, but it’s only slight consolation.)

We also had a choice of driving north to and through the Columbia River Gorge or heading west to see the Oregon lavender farm. Though the lavender was certainly nice, we should have gone to the gorge. I guess we’ll just have to go back another time…

Lavender Fields

Route Map:

If you’re interested in a trip like this, I would definitely encourage you to go. Oregon is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and – as you can see on the map below – we saw a fairly small portion of it. Though I do recall the naturalist telling us that something 80% of Oregonians live west of the Cascade mountains, so while we only saw part of the state, we met most of the people. (The population density map shows just how dramatic this is.)

The Rothe Loop: Oregon

Though I would definitely go back to Oregon in a heartbeat, I would plan the trip differently. Well, I wouldn’t do this particular trip (what I’ve taken to calling “The Rothe Loop”) again, though I do recommend it as a way to see a lot in a short period of time. Going back I would likely set up camp in Bend and explore from there: Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Smith Rock, and more than 120 lakes to explore. From Bend, you could get the full Oregon experience in a hip small town.

Safe travels!

Heartbreak leads to a tiny, lovely tribute from a worldwide community

rebeccapurple

Rebecca Alison Meyer
June 7, 2008 – June 7, 2014

Eric Meyer is an expert in what we call Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which are used to control how things “look” in your web browser. Truth be told, he’s a bit of a legend who has spearheaded the development of making it easier for us to build beautiful things. At Rare Bird, we’re all familiar with his work and some of us have either heard him speak or read his books (or, in a few cases, both.)

A couple of weeks ago, on June 7, his daughter Rebecca passed away. She was six.

Eric and his wife, Kathryn, requested that those who attend the services and are comfortable wearing purple do so in honor of Rebecca and her favorite color. Upon hearing this, a member of the WC3 staff, Dom Hazaël-Massieux, requested that a purple in the CSS color list be named “Becca Purple” in her memory. Eric suggested that it be named “rebeccapurple” instead, because his daughter wanted everyone to call her Rebecca after she turned six, and – after all – she was six for almost 12 hours.

On Saturday, June 21, Rebecca Purple (#663399) was officially added as the 141st color to be recognized by name by all web browsers.

And so, from this tremendous heartbreak, a color is born.

This is why I write things down (and why you should, too)

Keep a Journal

Remembering what they say is the best reason to keep a journal

I was glancing through recent entries in my journal and found this gem from March 9, 2013:

Grace: “It’s been soo long since I was swimming in a pool!”
Char: “I know, it’s great.”
Grace: “It’s so much better than trying to do it in the bathtub!”

I had no memory of this. If I hadn’t written it down, it would have been lost forever. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me.

It’s happening to you, too, whether you know it or not. So start writing things down.

For simplicity, I’m using Day One, a Mac-based digital journal that makes it simple to record little items like this and longer form entries. I highly recommend it.

I also found this tip from Michael Hyatt the other day and I’ve been trying it since I read it. I think he’s definitely on to something. His advice? Use a template to prompt your entries. Here’s the (short) article where he lays it out and provides the template he uses. Try it, it works.

What can Brown do for you?

Scout has her own reasons for liking the UPS man

Scout has her own reasons for liking the UPS man

Char told me a story yesterday that I hadn’t heard before. It goes like this:

A few years ago, my Mom sent the kids a bunch of cookies for Easter. They arrived by UPS truck. The kids were ecstatic and over-sugared for days. Score a point for Grandma (and, apparently, the UPS man, because after this delivery they’d shout “Cookies!” and head for the door every time they saw the UPS truck.)

Funny enough, until you imagine how their little hearts broke each time it just drove on by – or worse, stopped to deliver something entirely NOT cookies. Still, they associated the sights and sounds of the big brown truck with cookies just as they did the sights and sounds of that creepy van with ice cream of questionable value and provenance. (An aside: I’m not sure where they get the die for the popsicles coming out of the back of the ice cream truck, but let it touch anything and it will stain for life.)

Fast forward to this week, when Char is out walking Scout and the UPS truck comes around the corner and stops at a neighbor’s house. Scout starts dragging her in the direction of truck. As the tug of war continues, Scout stops dead in her tracks and sits in the street. It takes some amount of coaxing to get her moving again.

As they continue their walk, the UPS truck catches up. Again, Scout starts pulling in the direction of the truck. Char’s mystified… until the truck stops, the UPS man hops out and says to Scout, “Aw, good girl, so good to see you again…” and tosses her a treat.

Score another point for the UPS man, who now apparently only delivers dog cookies.

(The kids are looking at you, Grandma.)