Gen Z Bored With the Internet, Looking For Real Life
Taylor Lorenz at The Daily Beast recently dedicated an entire column to phone boredom, focusing specifically on today’s teens, also known as Generation Z. What is phone boredom? Lorenz explains: “Phone boredom hits when you’ve cycled through everything there is to do on your device and you’re left feeling stranded.”
Lorenz observes, “It’s tempting to think that these devices, with their endless ability to stimulate, offer salvation from the type of mind-numbing boredom that is so core to the teen experience. But humans adapt to the conditions that surround them, and technical advances are no different. What seemed novel to one generation feels passé to the next. To many teens, smartphones and the internet have already lost their appeal.”
While Gen Zers remain engaged with their phones and are still digital natives, they are fluent in social media and continue to scroll, click, like, and comment. But Lorenz quotes several Gen Zers who describe restlessness and discontent with the online world. One teen naemd Violet said, “Sometimes I feel like I’ve reached the end of the internet.”
What’s the cure? Lorenz notes that some Gen Zers do as you would expect: turn off the phone, put it away, and head outside, finding opportunities to connect with other people, play, or be creative. They let their minds wander, daydream, and do as most of us do whenever we feel bored. While I’ve heard many teenagers complain of boredom, it can be a good thing, motivating a person to get up and do something, anything, to escape the onset of restlessness.
Churches have a part to play. As communities, churches are a point of human connection and activity, as well as creativity and meaningful expressions of service and love. Gen Zers in your context may have experienced “phone boredom.” Help them to name that experience. And then invite them to move out of that state and into “real life,” a life of friendship with God and love of neighbor, where they can grow in faith and become a person who lives a life that is good and pleasing to God.
Rather than decry the distractions that may result from phone addiction or constant scrolling, ask Gen Zers if their experiences online are creating a longing for something more. Invite them to explore their theology and tradition, and ask how the Bible and the great thinkers of the past have understood our desires for significance. Then, allow them space to discern creative ways to respond in light of these longings.
I’ve often thought of social media, especially when accessed by phone, as a kind of magic portal that removes us from the present moment and transports us into a never-ending tunnel of stimulation, escape, and voyeurism. While social media, YouTube, and the internet can expand our understanding of the world, they can also lead us into an endless cascade of cat videos and other forms of distraction. All the while, the sands of time slip through the hourglass. Think of the opportunities lost.
Perhaps Gen Z is seeing something new, realizing that the web eventually exhausts itself and us, and they will lead us into the future, modeling for us a healthy engagement with our world.