The title of the book I am recommending is a mouthful: “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood*: *and What That Means for the Rest of Us.” This book by Dr. Jean M. Twenge serves as a deep, yet accessible analysis of the attitudes, values, and behaviors of America’s newest generation of young adults: iGen. I am a doctoral student studying higher education at Penn State. Although my goal in reading this book was to understand iGen as a student population, I found Twenge’s insights to be timely and relevant to contexts beyond the university, which is why I want to share them here today.
The generational label was coined by Twenge herself and describes those who were born between 1995 and 2012. This time span was a period of rapid technological and social change, which included the commercialization of the Internet and the release of the iPhone. In addition to “Internet” and “iPhone,” the “i” in iGen also represents this generation’s trademark “individualism” and the “income inequality” they have to contend with in the wake of the Great Recession.
iGen is the first generation to have spent their entire childhood interacting with the Internet. This makes them different from every previous generation, including Millennials. With more time spent interacting with new media, iGen spends less time engaging in face-to-face interactions. Twenge suggests this may be one reason for the recent uptick in reports of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
iGen’s relationship with technology though isn’t the only thing that separates them from previous generations. Due to their protected upbringings, they are also less independent, and arrive on college campuses with less experience navigating adult situations, such as drinking alcohol and having sex. Compared to previous generations, iGen high school seniors are also less likely to drive, work, date, and go out without their parents. Twenge suggests this is part of a larger cultural trend toward growing up more slowly and taking longer to become an adult. iGen is also more likely to question traditional social norms and disaffiliate from formal institutions, such as places of worship and political parties. And lastly, more than any other generation, they are obsessed with safety, focused on tolerance, and have absolutely no patience for inequality.
Twenge’s “iGen” is well-researched, yet entertaining and relatable. She does a phenomenal job of describing the trends shaping iGen by drawing on several national data sets. She goes even further to give the reader context by comparing iGen’s values and attitudes to those of previous generations when they themselves were young adults. Overall, Twenge believes that smartphones, the internet, individualism, and income inequality are the underlying factors influencing this generation in both positive and negative ways. She offers recommendations for supporting iGen in a postscript titled “Understanding—and Saving—iGen.” From parents and friends, to educators and employers, the book “iGen” would be useful to anyone seeking to understand this generation’s formative context and their subsequent values and attitudes. It would also be a useful resource to iGen’ers who are looking for language to better describe their experiences.
Reviewer Kirsten Tekavec is a graduate assistant at WPSU.