Introducing Generation Me, by Jean Twenge
Lost in a Confusing Morass
Let’s introduce Generation Me: by Jean M Twenge. This book explores and reveals the cultural universe of the current young generation that is pushing into adulthood right now and reveals their character, strengths and struggles, with especial focus on helpful comparisons with previous generations; baby-boomers (both leading and trailing edge,) and Gen X. Twenge explores individuality and the rejection of rules, depression and sex, finances, jobs, education and fears. Through the use of massive studies, scholarly and popular writing, Google and culturally iconic movie quotes, she delicately opens the bomb casing of today’s twenty-somethings, (and thirty-somethings) and we get to peer inside and see what makes this generation tick. Her penetrating evaluation exposes the cultural forces that shaped and molded Generation Me, or, as Prince might say, the generation formerly known as Millennials.
The value of this book is understanding to facilitate meaningful engagement. Each generation brings its own perspective to the world, and for us to bring the gospel into the lives of each generation, we need to understand the people to whom we speak, their heart motivations, fears, and priorities, in order to garner the highest impact. Fortunately, the gospel is always relevant and penetrating to every culture, but people and cultures change. In the context of 21st Century Apologetics, this book will expand our understanding of our milieu and the messagees, those people who need to hear the gospel.
Let’s also contemplate our message. At the core, we present THE gospel; Sinful and needy mankind, loving and just God, salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ; new heart, transformed life, nuanced a thousand ways. The Holy Spirit then quickens the elect, and we rejoice at the grace and mercy of God. In many ways, presenting “the gospel” is all we really need to do. That is what we are called to do. At the same time, we need to make sure that we package the core message in a way that makes sense to Gen Me. The assumptions and preconceptions and the vocabulary of earlier generations are a foreign language now. Things that were taken for granted in the past don’t even exist in the 21st century cultural dictionary.
Consider the following statement from Twenge’s discussion of Moral Individualism, where each person believes that “morality is a personal choice:” “When asked if people have a moral responsibility or duty to help others, one young person said, ‘No, not really.’” (Twenge, page 30.) On the surface this is surprising, but not alarming until you gain some context: “Today’s under-35 young people are the real Me Generation, or, as I call them, Generation Me. Born after self-focus entered the cultural mainstream, this generation has never known a world that put duty before self.” (Italics mine – Twenge, page. 2.) The eye opener here is that calling the “no, not really,” youth to a sense of duty is similar to trying to convince a blind person that they should really prefer driving a blue car over a red one. How do you appeal to someone with the Golden rule when to them, other people aren’t just irrelevant, but invisible? Right and wrong don’t even exist in a world where the only criteria for making a choice is, “What I want,” or “What makes me feel good.” In the past, people wanted proof that the gospel is truth, Gen Me doesn’t even have a concept of truth, and certainly they hold no commitment to truth as some kind of absolute “out there” that can be learned; or that is worth searching for. Their entire lives have been built on the foundation that “truth” is what you find in yourself. We need a new dictionary and a new language.
We need God’s wisdom to speak, we need God’s wisdom to understand.
It is always dangerous when looking at an age group, whether it is your own, or someone else’s to say, “That generation is, let’s say, selfish, or unapproachable, or gullible.” For example, not every 28 year old today is narcissistic. But, for the sake of those who don’t know, let’s ponder Snapchat and selfies. Snapchat is a phone application that allows you to send pictures that you take out to the Internet-connected world. As of March, 2019, over 400 million people have Snapchat accounts, sending over 90 million images every day, of which, about three quarters are selfies. Now selfies, for us old folks, are pictures that you take of yourself. As a person who grew up taking pictures of others from behind the camera, on film, this concept is inexplicable. But before we get lost, let’s ponderize and observate and summarize; there are an awful lot of people out there who are self-absorbed. (And you can multiply Snapchat by Facebook raised to the power of Pinterest plus Instagram.) We are forcibly dragged to conclude that although any individual might not be selfish, or unapproachable, or gullible, it is clear that there is a body of activity taking place in our world, in general, that gives us an indication of some driving heart issues. And more importantly, all of this picture sharing activity is closely connected to tendencies of the heart, priorities and commitments, and sin and enslavement. In the end, we need to observe careful observations and conclude intelligent conclusions. Even if a specific 28-year-old isn’t narcissistic, there are a LOT of 28-year-olds who are and every 28 year old, even the selfless ones, lives in a swamp of self-interest and self-focus.
This raises a lot of questions for a Christian. (And keep in mind that what we really long for is for everyone to share in the delight of glorifying God and enjoying him forever!) What is the impact of Snapchat? (Or social media?) Why would someone want to post selfies for friends and strangers to look at? What is in the heart of a people who would even want to put pictures of themselves “out there?” How does this daily, repetitive, irresistible activity change the heart of the person who does it? What drives this person? What are they worshipping? What happens to a culture that is so driven by endless posts and memes? How does this activity (obsession?) impinge on a person’s view of God? What does the gospel have to offer to help us understand? And ultimately, what do we do? What do we say?
This is why we need to understand our world and culture, and Generation Me offers a world of insights that will guide us.
The value of Secular Scholarship
Twenge summarizes numerous massive studies, tests, interviews, and evaluations. The data spans 60, 70, even 100 years. Often the evaluation compares thousands of young people who were teenagers in 1975 to other teenagers in 2005 and then even more teenagers from 2015. How do the responses change to the same questions as we move through the generations? Other tools give the same tests to the same body of people when they are 14, 34, and then 54, showing how perspectives have change within the same population. Her insights span the priorities presented in movies or popular songs, or what the most searched motivational phrase is on Google. The observations come from directed studies and from tracked behaviors. In the end, what the book provides is the culmination of crunching a lot of data on people past and present.
Let’s be clear right up front – this book is not written from a Christian perspective; the author makes no claim to any religious or moral perspective. This should not, however, deter us in any way. Although the author doesn’t ever really say that, for example, the pervasive cultural selfishness is wrong, she does list a number of inevitable and observable consequences of selfishness and points out the painful, or positive(?) results. For example, she identifies that Gen Me tends to be more lonely because they won’t commit to relationships because they don’t want to be limited or stifled or to have their own wants put on hold or jeopardized for someone else. Is this good? Is this bad? The author doesn’t say. Another example: her conclusions about the overwhelming sexual promiscuity of Gen Me are utterly bereft of any moral sense. She assesses the empty and persistent sexual activity as a generational difference, nothing more. There it is; it just is.
And perhaps her lack of any moral center is all to our advantage. By reading this book, we aren’t just gaining penetrating insights into what is happening in our culture and the driving attitudes of an entire generation, we are also gaining a deep understanding of what a non-Christian thinks about these moral issues. What better way to build a strategy for sharing the gospel than having someone tip their hand and show us all their cards of life? The gospel is the answer to every question, but we need to know what people are asking, not asking, or ignoring.
Certainly, we should be angry that an entire generation has been misled into debilitating perspectives of self and sin. But moreover, we should be moved to pity and compassion. This generation of millions isn’t just voters or consumers, to be manipulated for political or mercantile ends, although they are particularly susceptible to this type of manipulation. They are precious souls who will either be led to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, or who will perish eternally. Understanding them and their world is critical.
The bottom line is that despite being essentially a-moral, (which is really another word for immoral, but I’m trying to make a point here,) what this book gives us is a rich and varied view of what is happening in the hearts and minds of an entire generation. The presented conclusions may be perverse, but the observations are detailed and penetrating and allow us to understand and develop Godly and wise responses. This will be the goal of our exploration of Generation Me.
This blog was written by Charles Fox