Religion & the New Social Construct – Part One ‘The New Generation’

Introduction

This is the first in a three part series, where I endeavour to look at religion in light of the new social construct. What is this new social construct, what is its relevance to religion and how does religion react to it?

This first part, ‘The New Generation’, discusses the new social construct, how it evolved, its makeup and its impact on our current way of living. In the next part we will look at religion, where it came from, where it currently stands in the current social paradigm. The final part evaluates what conclusions we might make from our studies of the first two parts and asks the question of religion: Where to from here?

Part 1 – The New Generation

YouTUBE, twitter, facebook, flickr, WordPress a few among many – these are the calling cards of a new age! The standard bearers for a paradigm shift in the way we as

Figure 1 - Social Network Icons

humans communicate and socially interact – a seminal change in thinking. Says Erik Qualman, who amongst other things is a columnist for Search Engine Watch and ClickZ Magazine, “We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it.”

Indeed, this is the era of the Digital Native, that ubiquitous generation who have never known the absence of cell phones, iPods, net books et al and who demand instant gratification of their knowledge senses…because they can! Is the social media phenomenon a fad, or is it a paradigm shift in human behaviour? In 2011, over half the world’s population will be under 30 and the majority of these millennials (Generation Y) will become social networkers! More people will opt to communicate electronically rather than face to face! Relationships will inevitably originate online, making compatibility of interests and thought processes less of an issue and possibly contribute to a lower divorce rate! Pen and Paper – passé! If it isn’t electronic and portable, it is not worth having, that goes as much for personal communication as it does for banking, shopping and finding insurance or booking a show….on the way there!! The whole mindset of this newer generation is different,  and which gives new meaning to the term generation gap!

Cultural Generations have been identified as cohorts of people who were born in the same date range and who share similar cultural experiences and, of particular interest to this essay, there are about five main (*) generation dividers. Figure 2 describes the main generation identifiers listed since 1900.

In the past and in particular those generations of the early 1900’s and prior, the generation drivers were familial, or patriarchal to be more precise. More importantly perhaps, previous generations followed tradition placing great import on the wisdom, experience and authority of those who had gone before them. However change had started, initiated in large part I believe, by the socially levelling effect of the Industrial Revolution.

Where before, the divide between old and young, rich and poor had always been wide leading to a greater dependency on the patriarch of the family or the local squire, the

Figure 2 - Cultural Generations

Industrial Revolution brought about greater prosperity and with it, a narrowing of that social gap; an ever greater sense of independence. It is important to realise though, that social change is not dependent on just one influence but on many. For example the first and second world wars as well as the Great Depression had an immeasurable effect on the first three generations listed in Figure 2, as did the exponentially advancing technology boom on subsequent generations. The Silent Generation, those of 1925 to 1945 vintage, who were born during the Great Depression and World War II, always wanted to be prepared, just in case. Coined by Time Magazine: “Youth today is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing.

This generation still looked back toward the previous generation for their guidance and wisdom; but it was in the next generation that independence and a certain rebelliousness manifested itself. This was the age known as the Baby Boomers, an unruly and self opinionated group, who believed that they were a generation apart. Hippies, sit-ins, drugs, flower power, make-love-not-war and space travel were the mantra of this no good bunch (or at least that was according to their parents)! And it is in this generation, now nearing retirement, where that independence and propensity for change were spawned. Technology was evolving at an exponential rate (thanks in large part to Vietnam, the Space Race and the Cold War), the age of the personal computer was dawning and the youth of the day embraced it with open arms.

Who will forget the immortal words of Neil Armstrong on 20th of July, 1969: ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ and he was right. This was the monumental culmination of one nations dream, led by a remarkably farsighted man. John Fitzgerald Kennedy said in September of 1962:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And as President Kennedy noted in 1962 with an allegory on time…of the first 40 years of the existence of man – we know very little. Yet in the last ‘ten years’ of his existence, man emerged from his cave and just last month, electric lights and telephones were invented. If the Mariner 2 Space Probe reached Venus “…we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.”  That was in 1962, the start of the Baby Boomer era, and technologically driven man has not stopped since, in fact mans progress has increased exponentially to the point where there is now a seminal change in man’s social construct, in the way his brain thinks!

It was during the Baby Boom era that the Internet was born. This key development was, I think, the fulcrum between the traditional and a brave new way of communicating, indeed of thinking and dealing with life; it was here that the new social construct had its embryonic moment and it was during this determining development that the next generation, ‘Generation X’ grew up. The Internet, a product of military necessity, soon evolved into the de facto ‘social glue’, the means of collective interaction!

Commentators have portrayed the X Generation as disconnected, disenfranchised or alienated due perhaps to their “latchkey” type childhood; they are also described as being moulded in the cauldron of a world of dramatically rising costs, oil crises and redundancies as well as perceived competition with their over-achieving forebears. This mix created a generation of pragmatic and effective leaders, driving the fledgling technological advances of the previous generation on to new heights. One has only to review the .com revolution of the late nineties to realise Gen X’s entrepreneurial potential and their grasp of the potential of new technologies. They are eager adopters of ‘…the collaborative technology that promises to re-shape how we work and live.’ (see Why Generation X has the Leaders we need now).

And so we come to the present generation, the indigenous population of a digital age, Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives.  Born into technology and not understanding non-instantaneous access to data/knowledge; socialising remotely via Facebook, twitter and others, they do not gel easily into the old ‘gathering’ mentality feeling more comfortable interfacing with others via an electronic medium. Texting, blogging and perhaps the archaic email or two, it seems that the art of the conversationalist has been digitised.

Studies into neuroplasticity posit that “…there is no longer any question that stimulation of various kinds actually changes brain structures and affects the way people think, and that these transformations go on throughout life.” Marc Prensky talks of the repetitive behavior required to reorganize the brain and immediately one can see the parallel to this generation who play video games, text and communicate digitally incessantly on a daily basis.

Digital Natives think differently to previous generations, they speak a new language, ‘digispeak’ if you will, conditioned as they have been by evolving technology from the day they opened their eyes for the first time. Consequently, unless you move onto their plane of communicating, they will not understand you and they will then naturally orient toward an environment which they do understand.

So how is religion adapting to digispeak? In the next part of this blog we will discuss religion, its origins, history and traditions and the interface it currently presents to the world.

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About Anthony

I am a married Catholic who is interested in Theology, History, Philosophy and the search for truth. I also have a penchant for photography.
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One Response to Religion & the New Social Construct – Part One ‘The New Generation’

  1. Nice commentary Anthony – very interested to see your conslusions. I’d add a couple of comments:
    1. This is the first generation in which we consciously embrace anonymity (online) and the notion of the avatar – externalising aspects of our personality into virtual entities. This seems to me to be a conscious fragmentation of the self, and it is interesting that this notion of the individual as a virtualised entity is progressively expanding in common culture (see the Matrix, Avatar and Inception as examples). I don’t think we have begun to see the impact of this, or if we can even posit what it will be.

    2. This is also the first generation in which memes have become a serious consideration, primarily because of the speed with wich which they can proliferate (and dissipate) and the impact they can have – positive and negative. The revelance to this discussion is the notion that the meme may be an evolutionary construct (as described in The Religion Virus for example http://www.thereligionvirus.com/), with the internet becoming a pseudo biological extension to the psyche. It’s a speculative view, but it does bind humanity, technology, evolution and religion in one framework – and perhaps is worthy of comment.

    Looking forward to your next sections!

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