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Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Hook-up Generation

Mercifully, I don't think much about my own teenage years. A bit odd, perhaps, since I work with teenagers every day, so you might think I get reminded of my teenage self all the time. There are several reasons that this doesn't happen, but important among them is the fact that my pupils don't seem to be having an adolescence much like the one I had.

I could list many examples (my Norwegian pupils look nothing like my friends and I did in 1980s Ontario, for instance), but one obvious one is romance. For us, pairing up was a major obsession. You wanted to have someone to kiss in your breaks and hold hands with in the corridors. This kind of visible behaviour exists in the school where I teach, of course, but there is relatively little of it. Surprizingly little, really. Not that my pupils don't hook up, of course. Many of them seem to have hopping social lives that certainly include getting close to the opposite sex, but much of this happens in the context of parties and other social groupings and doesn't necessarily include pairing off over time.

Now, I can't say I spent much time thinking about this until last week when a piece in Patricia Vanderbilt's blog caught my eye. She's a senior at Whitman college in the US, but the situation she describes seems to be one many of my pupils could relate to. Vanderbilt's fellow students hook up, but they don't form romantic partnerships much, certainly not over time. She mentions the role of alcohol (in this kind of situation, there isn't much sex without alcohol) and talks about how the tendency is to have casual sex, or not to have sex. There just isn't much in between.

So maybe we're looking at some kind of broad cultural change here. Where does it come from? Vanderbilt says: "We're ... image-conscious and self-absorbed. It's hard   not to be; we showcase our amazing lives via Facebook and judge our peers by the way that they present themselves online." She argues that among other things this constant self-awareness and self-staging makes people almost too self-concious to talk and that it is anxiety that drives many of her peers to half-drunken casual sex or celibacy.

Could Facebook be helping to change the nature of romance?

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