In the United States in the 1960’s it used to be that the younger generation was more in tune with people’s emotion, and were heavily involved in activism related to people less fortunate than themselves. Now a recent piece of research slams the current generation of college students for being “less empathetic” than previous generations. The study which claimed to use “standardized” ways to assess empathy found that beginning in 2000 college students started to lose their sensitive side. Questions such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective”, apparently got a more negative response than from those college students in the 1970s. The researchers placed the blame on the shoulders of the internet revolution and violent video games.
But is this really the case? If so then perhaps the current generation of college students will produce a legacy of cold indifference when they become leaders themselves. Over the course of human history the older generation often makes unjustified comments about the younger generation being less respectful and more prone to care only about themselves. Even the ancient Greeks complained about their youth. Is the current crop of college students really 40 percent less empathetic?
For one thing, technology has changed the definition of friend. 30 years ago nobody had a facebook account or defriended anybody. In addition today’s teenager likely has a cellphone which equips him or her to be connected to an ever growing pool of friends. The internet and telecommunication technology has made connections between people explode at an exponential rate. In the 1970s college students had the telephone and the old fashion letter to keep in contact with high school friends, now with cell phones, email and twitter people can collect friends more easily as they age and keep in contact with more of them than ever before. If your friends only communicate in short text messages and emails then I guess you might miss some of the greater struggles they are experiencing. Still, most normal people probably empathize daily about people less fortunate than themselves. On a daily basis I read news stories about people suffering from HIV/AIDS in a foreign country and wonder how hard that must be. Is it true that the younger generation really has so much less empathy?
For one thing, volunteerism is up among college graduates as more are seeking to volunteer with organizations such as the Peace Corps. Many may blame this on the current economic downturn, but it also indicates that the young generation harbors a certain degree of optimism and willingness to help others.
Maybe the problem is that today’s youngsters have too many superficial friends and not enough close friends. Technology enables many teenagers to keep in contact with dozens of friends, maybe there isn’t the time available to focus in on some close friends and understand how they tick.
At any rate, it might be too early to write off the current generation of young college students.