You Aren’t Depressed, But Your Life is Meaningless

Conor Greenberg and William Levine

  Along with the rise of social media and the internet has come a rise in rates of mental illness among Generation Z. This correlation is often pointed out, and it is assumed that social media is the cause of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Critics of platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat assert that they showcase the unrealistic, glamorous, and overall superficial lives of teenagers and their peers, which leads to feelings of inadequacy, envy, and ultimately, mental illness. While this is not a false assertion, it seems to miss the broader implication of the constant and rapid evolution of technology and its integration within our lives– technology has made our lives so easy that there has ceased to be any point in living at all.
  For those who have grown up entirely in the 21st century, their lives padded with the comforts of video games, hypnotic cartoons, plastic toys that become extensions of the self, and instant access to nearly anything desired, the simple pleasures of food, family, friends, and love have been reduced to nothing more than boring necessities. The digital realities and synthetic passions that have become so important to Generation Z, however, are not impenetrable. Once it is realized that these technological baby-blankets are simply holographic nothings, the life of a Generation Z teenager is prone to collapse. Humans did not evolve by living the cushy life provided by one’s McMansion, local Whole Foods Market, and the heated steering wheel of a Range Rover. As a matter of fact, humans developed mostly during early agrarian times, and as such our minds require a significant amount
of work and duty to function properly. To survive, the human mind greatly favored motivation for, and meaning behind, work. Alas, the meaning man sought was not some overly complicated existential or metaphysical truth to survive in an increasingly complex world. It was instead to find purpose in meaningful work; one would work so one may survive so one may reproduce. It is slightly different now.
  Today, if one becomes hungry, one may open the refrigerator and grab a quick snack, typically a genetically engineered substance loaded with preservatives so it will stay
fresh for a century. Gorging oneself on a massive meal is no longer only found in the context of a rare, celebratory feast; services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and BiteSquad make it possible to indulge in such meals at one’s leisure, and they can be ordered from the comfort and solitude of the couch or bedroom, rather than requiring the intense physical labor of hunting and gathering (or even the slog of getting off the couch and driving to a store to buy groceries). This results in a multitude of things, from skyrocketing rates of obesity and heart disease to the mental illness associated with the modern diet of fast food and
truckloads of carbohydrates.
  If one is in need of excitement and adventure, video games and virtual reality have overtaken the real world as a means to this. Not only can one virtually travel anywhere
in the world that their heart desires. They can also take on any role and live out any and every fantasy they could possibly dream of, from the life of a soldier in World War I to the life of a peasant in a nuclear apocalypse. Such digital dreams and chronic roleplaying remove the individual from reality, resulting in nearly psychotic tendencies and overall dissatisfaction with the real world.
  Social media is therefore simply another symptom of a society diseased by technological overabundance. The neurotoxicity associated with social media, however, is often wrongly attributed to its tendency to increase envious and imitative behavior. While this is a very real impact of social media, the more significant damage it does is associated with the opposite parallel of this phenomenon– addiction to the dopamine splash of likes, comments, new followers, and, most importantly, the endless supply of mind numbing content that whizzes down the screen as the user scrolls furiously through their feed. Never before has such impatience and need for instant gratification been the norm as it is in Generation Z. The pixels glow, the fingers tap, the brain turns to static. Many people fall victim to this zombie-scrolling, even the ever-so-high-and-mighty authors of this article. Ultimately, the consequence of this acclimation to ridiculously fast-paced media consumption is a shockingly diminished attention span, and a disturbingly high threshold for desire-fulfillment.
  What results is the inability to appreciate the truly pleasurable and satisfying experiences of life– preparing one’s own food, appreciating nature, being in the company of friends. All of these activities now must be accompanied by some technological thrill to achieve enjoyment, from taking endless photos of the experience to constantly being on social media while spending time with real people. This is due to the endless overstimulation of modern society, of which technology is only a part. Social media is simply a representation of all the unnecessary aspects of our society.
  It’s been found that more money and fame does not lead to more happiness, and although this may seem obvious, the society that exists today offers a different dialogue. All these extra, ultimately unnecessary steps to accomplish unnatural desires of wealth, entertainment, fame, etc., only lead to great unhappiness for the majority of people who fail to realize the trivial nature of it all. One will be happy without massive wealth, without a masters in business, without a heated steering wheel in one’s Range Rover, and without the complicated, frivolous lifestyle that is lived by the average human in society today.
  Is the solution, then, to retreat from modern society and create a self sufficient refuge in the wilderness? For some, absolutely. But for most, to simply be aware of the meaninglessness of their complicated existence will bring a greater appreciation for the life they are living.
  To conclude it is necessary to address the title of the article. “You aren’t depressed, but your life is meaningless” is not a statement to detract from the struggles you believe you are facing, but rather to pull one’s self back from the subjective, tunnel-vision reality for which one exists. The struggles you face on a daily basis are probably not that bad, as most of them have very little actual consequence and very little actual purpose, and furthermore nearly everyone else is facing the exact same struggles as a consequence of being born Generation Z. It also does not mean the feelings you experience, the stress, depression, and anxieties, are not real, but rather that they are the natural response to an unnatural world.