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Generation Me: Twenge’s Concept Essay


Introduction

According to Twenge, Generation Me refers to individuals (Americans) born after 1970. In her book titled ‘Generation me’, Twenge analyzes the socio-cultural problems facing the 18-to-35-year-old generation.

Twenge asserts that individuals born after 1970 believe that self-esteem is more important than personal achievements. Consequently, Generation Me places the self above everything else. Additionally, this generation believes that every dream is achievable.

However, they are not ready to deal with the fact that some dreams can not be achieved. Hence, young people develop anxiety and depression when they discover that the realities of life do not conform to their expectations. Twenge asserts that individuals born after 1970 tend to be self-centered, disrespectful and more depressed than earlier generations.

Twenge believes that realism is the solution to the problems facing young people. In this context, young people should abandon their belief in self-esteem, and focus on education programs that promote empathy, as well as, accomplishment.

This paper attempts to critically review Twenge’s concept of Generation Me. The sociological perspectives of Max Weber, Simmel and Mead will be used as the theoretical framework for the review.

The Source of ‘self’

Twenge attributes the development of the sense of self to the emergence of an egalitarian society, particularly, in America and other western countries. Twenge asserts that changing social mores have resulted into permissiveness in the society.

The social rules or norms that once controlled the society have become less stringent in the contemporary world. Additionally, social norms are no longer universally accepted in the contemporary society. Compared to past generations, Generation Me are more likely to agree with the premise that “there is no single right way to live”.

Consequently, the universally accepted standards of earlier generations have been superseded by individual choices in the current generation. The supremacy of the individual has led to the creation of a generation that strongly believes that a person does not have to mind other people’s opinion as long as she believes in herself.

Hence, members of Generation Me have failed to embrace the norms of etiquette that promote respect for others. The self is, therefore, more important since a single right way of doing things no longer exists in our society.

Twenge also attributes the development of the sense of self to the decline of the church and religious teachings. Twenge argues that members of Generation Me are reluctant to uphold the rules or teachings of organized religion.

Her argument is supported by the observed decline in church attendance, especially, among persons in the age bracket of 18 to 29 years. Persons in this age bracket have a highly individualized belief system. In response to this belief system, most churches have developed a personalized type of religion.

Such churches emphasize the belief that Christ is a personal savior and he has plans for every person. The personalized nature of religion promotes the development of the individualized culture associated with the members of Generation Me.

Finally, Twenge attributes the development of the sense of self and individualism to the institutionalized prominence of self-esteem. The self-esteem curriculum has become popular in schools and churches. This curriculum emphasizes the notion that children/ students are unique and independent.

However, emphasis on self-esteem went overboard in the current generation. This led to the belief that “feeling good about your-self is more important than good performance”. Increase in narcissism, thus, became the negative outcome of the self-esteem movement.

In this context, individuals concentrate on themselves with little or no empathy for others. Emphasis on self-esteem is reinforced by the belief that a person can be anything she wants to be. Children’s preferences have become more important and parents hardly make decisions for their children.

Twenge gives an adequate explanation of the sources of the sense of self among Generation Me. The adequacy of Twenge’s explanations is demonstrated by the fact that the contemporary culture is both a reflection and influence of individualism and the sense of self.

The cultural shifts towards individualism began before the emergence of Generation Me. Thus, members of Generation Me believe that individualism and the self are more important since they were born and bred under this cultural assumption.

Additionally, Twenge’s explanations are supported by 14 years of empirical studies on sources and outcomes of the culture individualism and self-esteem. Thus, she does a good job in explaining the social conditions that promote the sense of self.

Twenge’s assessment of Generation Me also corresponds to the realities facing individuals in the age bracket of 18 to 35 years. Most of the problems facing young people can be attributed to over emphasis on the self and individualism. Young people are known for being over ambitious in life and setting targets that they can not achieve.

When they fail to realize their ambitions, they become anxious and depressed. This can be explained by the significant rise in cases of depression in America in the last decade. The rise in cases of failed marriages can also be attributed to over emphasis on the self.

Most Generation Me couples tend to put their personal interests before their marriages. This leads to constant disagreements and eventual collapse of marriages. Obsession with social media such as YouTube is the result of a strong belief in the self.

The youth spend most of their time in social media in an attempt to create their identities. Additionally, students have lost respect for teachers since they believe their opinions are better than or as good as those of the teachers. These trends reflect the sources and outcomes of the culture of the self as explained by Twenge.

Twenge adopts both interpretivism and positivism in her study. Interpretivism is the main method used to investigate the development of the culture of the individual or the self among members of Generation Me.

She uses a qualitative method to collect and interpret data on the causes and meaning of individualism and the sense of the self. The positivist method is used to justify her findings. For instance, she refers to statistics from quantitative studies to justify the increase in depression among the youth.

In the context of sociological theory, Twenge draws from postmodernism and rational choice theory. Postmodernism is based on the premise that past experiences or norms no longer govern the society. Additionally, the modern society is pluralistic and very diverse.

Rational choice theory asserts that individuals put self interest first. Additionally, they focus on goals and cost-benefit calculations. These theories explain the development of the culture of individualism and the self.

Although Twenge’s explanations are adequate from a sociological perspective; her work in general has the following flaws. First, Twenge over emphasizes the socio-economic conditions of Generation Me.

Her claim that young people are, currently, more miserable than in the past might not be entirely correct. There are a lot of young people who have successfully achieved their dreams and are happy.

Failure to achieve financial independence, for instance, can be as a result of poor governance and not over emphasis on the self. Additionally, the problems currently facing young people existed even in earlier generations.

Second, she does not point out the positive outcomes of high self-esteem and individualism. It is apparent that high self-esteem promotes hard work and facilitates success. Additionally, individualism reduces dependency and promotes objectivity in the society.

Third, cultural differences a long the lines of race and ethnicity is not addressed. Various races and ethnic groups in America have different views on individualism, and self-esteem. Thus, it is not obvious that every young person focuses on his or herself.

Twenge’s studies were mainly done in America and this limits their use for generalization at a global level. Finally, people do not always develop high self-esteem simply because they believe in feeling good about themselves. There are a lot of young Americans whose high self-esteem is based on their past and current achievements.

Cultural Characteristics that Led to the Production of Generation Me

The cultural characteristics of America largely contributed to the emergence of Generation Me. The cultural aspects that contributed to the creation of Generation Me include the following. First, Americans value hard work and achievement.

Americans believe that working tirelessly pays off in abundance. This belief is held both collectively and on a personal level. Laziness is discouraged and is associated with low pay, low public esteem and personal failure.

According to Weber’s concept of protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism; pursuit of profits is virtuous and an end in itself. The Protestants believed in worldly calling by giving a religious character to worldly activities such as business.

A branch of Protestantism referred to as Calvinism believed in predestination. According to Calvinism, an individual was considered to have God’s favor if she could successfully accumulate profits and material possession.

Additionally, the Protestants believed that helping the poor through donations was unacceptable. They believed that donations promoted beggary. This belief motivated Americans to work hard and accumulate material possessions. Hence, the modern capitalist economic system was created.

Capitalism promotes individualism and the sense of the self due to the fact that everyone intends to make more profits at the expense of others. Additionally, capitalism promotes individual ownership of private property. This explains why Generation Me lack concern for others.

Second, Americans value their independence. Americans believe that they are self-defined, as well as, self-made. Consequently, Americans discourage similarity of beliefs and thoughts. Americans value independence since most of them migrated to America in order to escape some form of oppression.

Today Americans practice individualism in their personal lives, accumulation of wealth and ideology. Hence, Generation Me find it hard to tolerate other people’s opinion and influence.

Third, pursing personal ambition is also an important aspect of American culture. Every American has a dream that they pursue in order to achieve some status in life. The American dream, for instance, was popular since achieving it meant a better life.

According to Max Weber, class and status are the outcomes of pursuing personal ambition. Class refers to a group of individuals who belong to the same or common class situation. Weber defines class situation as “the relationship of a person or group of people to a particular market that has an important effect on their lives”.

Class stratification is based on material possession, status and power. Consequently, the ambition of most Generation Me focuses on acquisition of wealth, power and status that is associated with the social class of their dream.

According to Weber, status refers to a visible lifestyle that can not be led by all social groups. Acquiring status involves monopolization of wealth and opportunities, hence the creation of Generation Me.

Finally, Generation Me has been created by the culture of inventiveness. Americans believe in making things better, cheaper, sustainable and stronger. The inventiveness of Americans is reflected in their technological advancements, politics, education and health care system.

Inventiveness in America is supported by the culture of risk taking. Americans are more willing to risk anything in order to achieve happiness, and acquire wealth. According to Weber, the modern society is characterized with rationalization and disenchantment.

Rationalization involves “intellectual clarification, specification, as well as, systematization of ideas”. Rational, calculable and predictable ideas have replaced traditional belief system in the modern society.

Weber also asserts that rationalization has led to the decline of religious teachings in the contemporary society. Hence, young people are more likely to identify with liberal religions than conservative ones.

Rationalization leads to disenchantment of the modern society. Disenchantment refers to demystification, as well as, secularization of the society. Secularization promotes the belief that there is no single way or approach of doing things.

Thus, Generation Me make their own decisions and pursue their interests, even if such interests may hurt others. Additionally, secularization has led to experimentation on culture. According to Simmel, secularization promotes objectification of culture.

Objectification refers to the process “by which individuals assign meaning to things, people, places, and activities”. Objectification leads to cultural constructions which shape the behavior of individuals. In the context of America, young people (Generation Me) assign meanings to socio-cultural phenomena on a personal level.

This explains why Generation Me do not care about what others think about their behavior as long as they believe in themselves.

Interactions that Contributes to the Development of the Self

According to Mead, the self is developed through social interactions. Mead asserts that the self consists of two parts namely, the ‘me’ and the ‘I’. The ‘me’ refers to the social self. It is formed through interactions, and forms the basis of conformity, as well as, predictability.

Thus, the ‘me’ represents the self as object. The ‘I’, on the other hand, represents the self as subject. According to Mead, the ‘I’ responds to the ‘me’ during interactions. Thus, the ‘I’ describes how an individual responds to the attitudes held by others.

The ‘me’, on the other hand, refers to the standardized attitudes held by others. The interaction between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ occurs in the mind through the thinking process.

The self described by Twenge can also be characterized in terms of the ‘I’ and the ‘me’. According to Twenge, the ‘me’ develops as young people (Generation Me) interact with their significant others.

For example, children are taught in schools and churches to believe that high self-esteem is the most important thing in life. Consequently, young people adopt the belief in the supremacy of the individual as the acceptable way of life.

The ‘I’ describes how Generation Me responds to the attitudes of the people they interact with. Since Generation Me believes in the culture of independence, their responses reflect their understanding of what is right and good for them.

Thus, a young person is likely to reject other people’s opinions since he believes that personal opinion is respected in America.

The forms of interactions described by Simmel also contribute to the development of the sense of self, as well as, individualism. Simmel notes that fashion develops in cities and it facilitates interactions between individuals.

It enables individuals to express their personal values. Thus, fashion leads to the development of the ‘me’ if a person conforms to the prevailing fashion in her city. Fashion can also lead to the development of individualism if a person decides to deviate from the prevailing culture.

Young people (Generation Me) prefer unique fashion to common fashion trends, thereby intensifying individuality. According to Simmel, money is used in the modern society as an impersonal measure of value. The “use of money distances individuals from objects and also provides the means of overcoming this distance”.

Simmel asserts that money promotes flexibility and freedom that enables people to exercise individualized control over the process of impression management. However, the use of money also creates the problem of personal identity.

In general, the use of money promotes individual freedom. It also creates problems such as alienation, and fragmentation. By using money, Generation Me can conform to the popular trends in their society or they can express their individuality.

Consequently, money enables them to develop both the ‘me’ and the ‘I’ aspects of their self. Finally, Simmel notes that the negative effects of using money leads to the development of the blasé attitude. A person with a blasé attitude tends to be indifferent towards everything.

Simmel points out that using money eliminates the true value, individuality and incomparability of things. The problems created by money compel the blasé individual to search for stimuli that enables him to regain the true meaning of his surrounding.

In the context of Generation Me, the search of this stimulus involves pursuit for excitement or extreme impressions.

Conclusion

Twenge uses the concept of Generation Me to describe the problems facing individuals in the age bracket of 18 to 35 years. In particular, she analyzes the development and outcomes of the culture of individuality and the sense of the self among those born after 1970.

Twenge argues that Generation Me consists of persons who value individuality but lucks respect for others. Twenge attributes the development of the sense of the self to over emphasis on self-esteem which was originated by the baby boomers.

The cultural characteristics that promote the development of Generation Me include independence, inventiveness, hard work and personal ambition. Drawing from Mead’s self theory, the self described by Twenge develops as a result of social interactions.

According to Simmel’s perspective on interaction, the development of the self is influenced by fashion, money, and the blasé attitude.

References

Calhoun, C., & Gertens, J. (2007). Classical Sociological Theory. New York: Cengage Learning.

Ritzer, G. (2000). Sociological Thoery. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Twenge, J. (2007). Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are more Confident, Assertive, Entitled and more Miserable than Before. New York: Free Press.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Generation Me: Twenge’s Concept." May 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/generation-me/.

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