Interview: 'Generation Me' Talks Texting, Careers, And Narcissism

This year's college graduates are supposedly deluded about their job prospects and devoid of empathy — probably because technology has rotted their brains. To find out if this was true, I decided to ask one: my brother.

My brother Danny graduated this month with a degree in philosophy, and in between looking for jobs, he agreed to talk to me over the "Me-Me-Me MySpace generation"-approved medium of instant messenger (I tried to Facebook chat with him, but I couldn't figure out how to save our chat because I am old). Over the course of our hourlong conversation (which I've cut down a bit), I learned that my brother may not be a narcissist, but he does spend a lot of time on Facebook — and though he may be part of the "why-worry generation," he worries about this too. Below, the highlights of our chat:

On technology:

me: first up: how much do you use facebook?
danny: mulitple times a day, i probably check it 5 to 6 times a day, depending on how bored i am
me: ok — do you update your status regularly (you can tell i dont check it frequently, because i have no idea)
danny: hahaha, no not really, the status thing is kind of weird because you sort of have to talk about yourself in the third person, i only use the status update for posting cool links to music videos or songs or to talk about how good the lakers are
me: haha ok — so do you have a twitter?
danny: no i dont and ive actually never even been to a twitter page, the whole followers thing seems really weird to me also haha
me: ha wow ok — it is weird to me too and i do it daily
how much do you text, would you say?
danny: way too much, i couldnt tell you how many texts i send per day but i know the last phone bill had like $170 in text charges lol
me: ha wow
danny: its hard not to text because thats like the primary form of communication with all of my friends
but i have to cut down because dad was not happy lol
me: yeah i bet :)
[...]
me: so do you think technology (ie fb, texting but also internet in general, even video games) has influenced how you see the world?
danny: ya so much its kind of scary, and i see it in all of my friends too especially those with iphones who can go on facebook on their iphone because then they can be connected to it 24/7
its definitely changed the way i like read the news and communicate with people
me: can you think of a specific example of how it's changed those things?
danny: hmm
me: like has it shortened your attn span or stuff like that?
danny: well its changed in both good and bad ways, like its great to be able to keep in touch with a ton of old friends through facebook and to see what they are up to and to see all their pictures and movies and stuff, but i definitely spend much more time on my computer and i usually have like 5 or 6 windows open with facebook, news, email, fantasy sports, etc.
yes its definitely shortened my attention span, i dont spend much time on any one web page im constantly surfing through different things much faster than i used to
and whenever i get home usually the first thing i do is go on my computer and check email, facebook, fantasy stats, and the most up to date news and blogs and stuff
so i feel more connected to technology and dependent on it
me: that makes sense
(i do that stuff too a lot of the time, and am definitely kind of freaked out when i don't have internet)
danny: like yesterday my cell phone died and i felt really weird without it and both [his girlfriend] and mom and dad thought i had died or something
me: hahaha
danny: and it really annoyed me that they freaked out so much when my phone had been dead for only like a few hours
it made me feel way too dependent on it
[...]

On careers:

me: ok so to switch gears a little bit to career stuff: what kind of jobs are you looking for right now?
danny: thats a tough question because i haven't really started looking as much as i should, i still have to finish my resume and such, but i really want to find something that i am happy doing and that could lead to good opportunities down the road
i would prefer an office job or something like that over retail or serving food tho, not that those jobs are bad or that i wouldnt do them but i think it would be cool to work at business or advertising or something
i also have a lot of friends in la who are going into the entertainment industry and ive always been into making music so if i could find something in that area that would be awesome but that could also be kind of unstable and hard to establish myself in
ultimately tho if i dont find something good i may go back to school and get a masters so i could teach and do something with my philosohpy degree
me: cool, sounds like you have a lot of ideas
so, what do you expect in terms of work-life balance? like, are you willing to work really long hours to get ahead?
or is it important to you to have a job w more flexibility/shorter hours
danny: obviously i cant be too picky at the moment but for my career i would want something with more flexibility because being able to have a social life and to spend time with my friends and go out and do things, that stuff is more important to me than making a ton of money
me: makes sense
danny: but making enough money to live comfortably is also important to me

On the future:

me: so are you optimistic about the future? of, say, the world and also your personal future?
danny: hmm, im not always optimistic, often after reading the news and seeing whats going on in the world politically and economically i get very pessimistic about both the future of the world and my own personal future
i worry that there could be more wars, more serious wars, and more economic problems in the future

On narcissism:

me: ok sorta weird question: do you think the world would be a better place if you were in charge?
danny: haha at times i feel like i could run the world better than the people that actually do it because they seem to do really illogical and immoral things but then realisitically i know that i could never weild that much power and deal with the stress that they must have
me: ha me too
so that question was actually from a test for narcissism, which people say is on the rise in college students — do you think people your age are more or less self-centered than older people, or the same?
[...]
danny: hmmm, my gut reaction was to say that people my age are more self centered
but i think thats natural because were at that point where we have to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives
so we spend a lot of time thinking about our own lives and maybe less about other important issues in the world
not to say that there arent a lot of people my age who aren't self centered because i know there are
but i think it is natural for people my age to be that way, sort of absorbed in their own life trying to figure everything out

On Generation Me:

me: if you had to describe your generation in one sentence, what would it be?
danny: my generation is at a really interesting point in history where we could go [on] to change the world in a lot of great ways or we could get lost in our technology and superficiality

Final thoughts:

me: ok last thing: what's the most important thing you learned in college?
danny: hmm its a tie between two things i hope thats ok: first, learning to question everything that i hear and not accept anything as truth without critically thinking about it, and second, just learning how to socialize and connect with people and how to make friends in the world
me: those are good things, its fine that there are two :)
danny: cool
me: ok thanks, that was really helpful!
danny: ya i hope i wasnt too long winded or not detailed enough
lol

The most important thing I learned in my interview: we can speculate all we want about Generation Y/worry/whatever, but if we want to know what's going on in their heads, the best way to find out is to ask them. Even if you have to do it over IM.

Question mark via Danilo Moura/Shutterstock.com.

From Students, Less Kindness For Strangers? [NYT]
The Why-Worry Generation [NYT]

Earlier: 10 Things That Are Ruining Kids Today