I'm not sure why this hit me so hard, but it's one of the saddest statements I've read in this years-long parade of sad and dispiriting statements. It's from an article entitled "New Kids on Block," from the January 21, 2019 issue of Ad Age, whereby the author outlines the hot, new demographic for advertisers: Kids born between 2010 and eventually through 2025. That is, if we're not annihilated by a Trump wag-the-dog war or an environmental holocaust.
The article extolls the virtues of "Generation Alpha" (the irony being in the name of what we learn is likely to be best educated, but the most self-centered, insular, and material generation in history). In other words an advertiser's dream and a societal nightmare. We learn that what Alpha kids (first among equals, ahem) really want is stuff and notoriety. Fitbits, Alexa devices, tablets, phones--if it glows, talks and has animations, they want it. Right now. But wait, there's more.
Ryan, an 8-year old boy from Texas runs Ryan ToysReview, a YouTube channel that attracts 18 million followers and garnered him and his family a cool $22 million last year. He's been an online toy influencer since he was 4. If you thought Macaulay Culkin was a casualty of his early fame, watch what happens to little Ryan when his voice deepens, the world moves on from his ToysReview and he isn't cool any more. Ryan is hardly alone. Ad Age profiles almost a dozen similar YouTube stars who have millions of followers and have yet to celebrate their 10th birthdays.
Who can blame them? Or their parents for imbuing these values? What's the difference between Gen Alphas goals and values and that of our current president and a generation of athletes and Hip Hop artists? In a society where it's nearly impossible not to see someone on a phone in every public place, why would anyone think that alternative, non-technology based behaviors would be encouraged? It's hard to point to one causal factor when there are so many and they're so persistently loud in our culture. Instant, global omnidirectional media, technologies, runaway wealth, sociopathic leaders in politics and business, celebrity worship, lack of contextual education and the ability to deliver immediate gratification for any and all desires, right now, anywhere in the world.
I've worked with cutting edge technology companies and tech visionaries longer than I'm ever going to admit. And to a person, not one of them initially started their company or invented their technologies for the money. The ones that were successful did it out of a sincere desire to improve peoples' lives. The ones that did it to make a killing almost always died on the vine. So it's cruel proof that the road to hell truly is paved with the best of intentions. Because of the massive proliferation of life-changing technologies, all aimed at making us better, more connected and compassionate humans, kids out there are bored by the pure joy of playing with a dog. Fido just can't compete. Pundits say if the trend toward technological dependence continues, we're going to lose our connection with the natural world. Wrong tense of the verb. If Ad Age is right, we've lost that connection with little hope of ever redeeming it.