The International Writers Magazine:
Decoding the 21st Century Generation F
The death of conversation was discreet. It slipped away under the heavy blanket of casual social networking before a terrible presence wooed us into an addictive land and now, here we boldly stand: the Facebook generation.
‘Cause people read status updates, not books’ reads the slogan of Facebook’s brother site reface.me. As an active member of the Facebook cohort I read this slogan numerous times before it smacks me square in my guilt-ridden expression; this is a slogan for our generation. As a social networking site that started out strictly for students, the phenomenon of Facebook has been almost impossible to ignore over the last four years with it’s domination across the globe. With a profile to represent your presence on this very earth; you’re not a somebody unless you’ve poked a decent handful of your Facebook friends. “Add me on Facebook yeah?” is a phrase that occurs all too often in today’s age, as you find yourself staring at your computer screen reading the words: ‘Thomas Wellington is sooooo hungover’ and then wondering who in the name of Moses Thomas Wellington actually is …and what a completely ridiculous surname.
With this said, Facebook was not enough for some, there was more to be done with this social networking malarkey and so came the birth of Twitter: a burst of one-hundred and forty characters, fundamentally constant status updates. With numerous celebrities jumping on the Twitter Train of ramblings, us normal folk realised we were able to essentially follow our favourite on screen personalities. With around four million users at the beginning of 2009, its popularity rocketed to an impressive forty million seeing us into the new decade: the tragic evolution of online stalking.
With a ‘status update’ for every occasion privacy is scarce to be found. We no longer feel, instead we just know each others feelings. Patrick Ness captures this in his novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go set in Prentisstown, the very last town of the New World. The novel immediately introduces us to the noise: every man can hear the thoughts of every other, with no escape or choice of whose thoughts they wish to hear. The protagonist, Todd’s life consists of irate ramblings of a society well on its way to extinction. Sound familiar? Ness has ingeniously crafted a world unlike our own, while still capturing the fundamental nature of the last ten years, touching on something universal that grips even the most cynical reader: the beauty of privacy.
Through Ness’ narrative voice of the twelve year old Todd Hewitt, we see not only a young boy coming of age, but the burden of the noise: ‘And them’s just the words, the voices talking and moaning and singing and crying. There’s pictures, too, pictures that come to yer mind in a rush, no matter how much you don’t want ‘em, pictures of memories and fantasies and secrets and plans and lies, lies, lies.’ (Ness, 2008, p.22) The superbly depicted noise displays that all-knowing that has violently erupted whether it be Facebook, Twitter or the ever-increasing installation of CCTV cameras that has swelled in this century. Ness, himself says the internet is “"a kind of unedited 'id'" - not unlike "the Noise" that surrounds Todd. The question he asks in the story is, what would you do if you couldn't turn that noise off? How can you escape it without cutting yourself off completely from other people?” (Eccleshare, 2008) And therein lies the problem our times, once we have all these devices that allow us to keep in contact with others we can’t cut it off. As much as I detest what texting, email and Facebook does to us all; keeps us all glued to our computer screens,
living in one another’s pockets. I just simply have to have it. As revolting as it sounds, Facebook is a corner of my personality captured in a profile page… I just shuddered.
The worry is the next step. To think that there is still room to get even deeper into the murky depths of each others pockets. We perceive ourselves as the age of technology but perhaps we’re not. We’re just the beginning of something that could undoubtedly become so much more. The Knife of Never Letting Go is a reminder of the value of privacy and the significance of the individual. Through networking we are united, we know one another; we communicate but let us not hope we were the generation that destroyed the comfort of confidentiality.
Eccleshare, J. (2008). And the winner is… Retrieved January 5, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/sep/27/booksforchildrenandteenagers
Ness, P. (2008). The Knife of Never Letting Go. London; Walker Books Ltd
Reface.me Retrieved November 24, 2009, from http://reface.me/
© Rosanne Stewart March 2010
Rosanne is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth