Our depleted, dried-up culture craves teen juice for nourishment. We’ve assumed that because we are tired and aching, we can absorb teenage youth-spirit through social media osmosis, a hot stem cell injection for our whole existence. But what if teens suck just as much as we do?
Like the astronomer who looks through a telescope for answers because it can’t get any fucking worse than Earth, we’ve been self-loathingly teen-gazing forever. Maybe, we hope, this vast finger-banging herd holds the forbidden knowledge we’re lacking, an elixir for new thought and exciting creation that we can’t find in ourselves. We have to admit that even if teens aren’t Good, they’re still Exciting: we hate teens because they do radically dumb stuff like smoke meow meow and join ISIS, we also envy them for doing radically dumb stuff like smoking meow meow and joining ISIS. Despite (or because of) their irresponsibility and wickedness, teens have become a bellwether of innovation; if you can draw teens to your startup or app, thinks the fool, you’ve cracked some entrepreneurial code. My man, how lost and wrong you are.
The teen fixation of technology makers and technology writers is particularly bloated and sad. By an order of magnitude, more words have been written worrying about which software teens are using on their phones than have been written to explain why anyone should care to begin with. Consider these recent, deeply embarrassing headlines:
- Rich Teens Use Instagram, Poor Teens Use Facebook (New York)
- I Tried Using Instagram Like A Teenager — And It Completely Changed The Way I See The App (Business Insider)
- These Charts Prove Teens Still Love Facebook (TIME)
- The Problem With Teens and Instagram (Yahoo)
- Pew Survey: Reports of Facebook’s Demise Among Teens Greatly Exaggerated (Forbes)
- Teens are still using Facebook—and Google+ (NPR)
There are hundreds more! The Teens on Facebook odyssey—literally just vicarious anxiety over whether teenagers are using Facebook more or less than they used to—dates back to at least 2010, prompting Facebook to actually address this media critic kegels exercise of a concern in an actual financial earnings call (the firm’s share price dropped steeply). This has naturally caused editors and venture capitalists to seek out teens as goofy, horny oracles. A BuzzFeed post from last year titled “23 Words Teenagers Love To Use And What They Really Mean” racked up almost three million views—now almost every single one of those words has been coopted by the Twitter marketing lobotomy trust. Denny’s is bae because of teens. Fuck that!
Business decision-making adults will listen to teens no matter what. If a teen walked into your bedroom and started blowing smoke into your face while you were picking out lighting fixtures at Ace Hardware, you’d jump up and start taking notes. The New York Times is so thirsty for teen insights that it’s allowed itself to be hoodwinked into publishing hoaxes. Every editor at every major media entity has half-joked about hiring a teen to explain the world, though it’s no joke at all. When someone’s wrangled a teen into speaking about their own mundane bullshit smartphone habits, the internet sphincter tightens around it—”A Teenager’s View on Social Media, Written by an actual teen” blew up on Medium. It didn’t matter that this particular teen’s view on social media was immensely boring and a vacuum sealed canister of turd-notions:
I am not as pressured to follow someone back on Instagram, meaning my feed is normally comprised of content I actually want to see. That being said, I will come back and scroll through an application that has content I enjoy rather than one where I have to find the occasional diamond in the rough.
What’s the point of fetishizing a teen if they’re just going to mimic the worst kind of adult?
And what is a teen if not just a little shitty adult? Who could possibly know less, offer less, be less than someone who has been cognitively active for about the lifespan of a dog? Teen behavior follows so few patterns or motives that trying to milk their wisdom in any methodical manner is a recipe for wasted time and chaos. Hoping to glean future teen success from past teen success is the dumbest culture fallacy of our dumb times. What teen havens like BuzzFeed, Snapchat, and whateverthefuckelse don’t realize is that teens aren’t loyal to any entity other than themselves and their flickering aura of cool. They are as promiscuous with brands as possible; they will jump ship from app to site to app to app without ever having even remembered what it is they liked about the previous one.
Teens will betray you. Teens won’t even remember your URL. They’ll click whatever’s put in front of them. They’re colliding particles. Would you interview a bee? Should tech investors study a pile of wobbling sea foam? Adult culture has become so obsessed with harvesting youth culture that we haven’t stopped to consider whether or not these kids are basically just gangly, brand-obsessed dorks who drive poorly and have partially formed brains. We’ve been worshipping at the consumer altar of teenagers that we’ve forgotten how little this particular crop has done for us; their cultural pinnacles are EDM and acoustic Vine covers. And why be surprised? Can we resent teens for not being little culture panaceas when their entire world consists of apps, track practice, and their house? We’re the fools for thinking the tiny teen world view really became larger just because it now includes the internet.
But we keep looking to teens, because were the hell else are we going to look? The dead? We’re in a teen-worshipping holding pattern, out of either desperation or fatigue. We’re in a rut. The Village Voice’s Christian Viveros-Fauné, in a recent review of the New Museum triennial that I skimmed yesterday, puts it perfectly: “there’s nothing more conservative in our time than youth culture.” But what if teenology isn’t just boring, but also kind of bad?
Video: “Literally My Life” by MyLifeAsEva, a teenage YouTube creation