Youth on Web: Reason? Who Needs a Reason?

by | Dec 4, 2011 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Wait long enough, and a study will be published confirming you were right.

So it was this past week when a Pew Research Center project revealed that on any given day, more than half of Americans ages 18-29 go on the Internet for “no particular reason.”


I knew it!

I have long since believed that going into cyberspace is a mission young people take not to actually land on a planet, but to cruise around the stars until the ship runs out of gas. The study shows that these young people have no purpose with the Web other than “fun,” which is why a video of a two drunken Ukrainians can have a gazillion hits.

When you’re not looking for anything special, the un-special will do just fine.

It reminds me of when we were kids, and we came into the house and immediately flipped on the television set.

“What are you watching?” our parents asked.

“Nothing,” we said.

“Then why do you have it on?”

We had no good answer then, as I suspect kids have no good answer today. Their parents ask, “Why are you on that computer?”

And they say, “Uh… what?”

Different from TV and radio

Now it’s true, every generation has its diversions. In the recent Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris,” the main character thinks life in the 1920s is much more alluring than today, and he gets to go back to that time – only to find a woman who thinks that life in the 1800s is much more alluring then the 1920s.

Same thing with diversions. We wonder why our kids are on the computer for so long, our parents wondered why we were addicted to the TV set, their parents wondered why the radio always had to be on, and their parents wondered how the horse got disconnected from the buggy. (OK, I made that last one up. My research doesn’t go back that far.)

But there is special concern with this new online addiction. No one was a predator on the radio. No one stole your identity through the TV. No one posted anonymous hate mail or vicious rumors through those mediums, nor were they used as a way of communicating with people in lieu of speaking face-to-face.

I am not in the 18-29 age group anymore. I barely remember it. But I see so many people of that age drawing all their opinions, news, entertainment and – worst of all – social interaction through a computer screen, that I worry soon the whole world will roll out of bed, plop down and reach for the mouse.

That is not how we were meant to live.

Just so much online

An old teacher of mine once told me he couldn’t watch much TV because he found it “physically depressing.” Not the programs. The act of sitting and staring at images. He said he felt worn out after a few TV hours, even though he barely moved a muscle.

I know what he means. I feel that way after too many hours on the computer. It’s a cross between wanting to fly away and not wanting to let go. There’s always one more thing to check. One more site to find. One more search to run.

It’s this yin and yang that are behind the Pew survey, I believe, and I don’t think it’s getting better. More and more of our lives are online – banking, shopping, problem-solving. And of course, communicating. We’re beginning to hear about people texting in their sleep.

It makes you wonder how we ever filled up our time before screens or speakers were invented. You know what people did? They talked. They visited. They sat near fires or rocked on porches. They wrote letters. They read quietly. They played with the kids and looked at the stars.

You know what we call that today?

A vacation.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!