A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.
Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.
This data is not unexpected. I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.
On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends.” They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), “speak” in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they “like.”
Using Twitter, young people can pretend they are worth “following,” as though they have real-life fans, when all that is really happening is the mutual fanning of false love and false fame.
Using computer games, our sons and daughters can pretend they are Olympians, Formula 1 drivers, rock stars or sharpshooters. And while they can turn off their Wii and Xbox machines and remember they are really in dens and playrooms on side streets and in triple deckers around America, that is after their hearts have raced and heads have swelled with false pride for “being” something they are not.
On MTV and other networks, young people can see lives just like theirs portrayed on reality TV shows fueled by such incredible self-involvement and self-love that any of the “real-life” characters should really be in psychotherapy to have any chance at anything like a normal life.