We live in a much more open age than earlier generations. Oversharing is the name of the game, especially online, for Generation Me (20 and 30-somethings). Young celebrities seem to love it as much as the less famous. “When I’m alone, I do masturbate a lot,” notes James Franco. “We have sex like Kenyan marathon runners,” boasts Olivia Wilde. From my book, Generation Me.
Maria, 20, says her mother’s motto is “Other people don’t have to know about the bad things that happen in the family.” Few in GenMe share that belief. Many think that confession is good for the soul, and this no longer means whispering to a priest in a dark booth. It means telling everyone about your experiences and feelings, no matter how distasteful.
When I asked my students to relate true stories for an extra credit assignment, I assured them they could tell their own story in the third person if they didn’t want me to know it was actually about them. Not one took me up on the offer; instead, I got myriad first-person stories, with names attached, about teenage sex, drug abuse, psychological disorders, ugly divorces, and family disagreements. One student wrote about losing her virginity at age 14 to a man who had only eight toes. So many students wrote candid essays about sex that I finally took it off the list of possible topics because I had more than enough stories. None of the students cared if I knew details of their personal lives that other generations would have kept as carefully guarded secrets.
This applies in spoken conversation as well. Jenny, 22, is an undergraduate at a small college in the South. When we met at a psychology conference, I asked about her career plans. Within two minutes, she was telling me about her broken engagement and how her former fiancé had been depressed. This was all done without pretense or embarrassment. In a mid-2000s survey of men, 62% of those 18 to 24 said they were comfortable discussing their personal problems with others, compared to only 37% of those age 65 and older. Many older people are amazed that young people will readily share their salary numbers with others, the disclosure of which once carried a strong taboo.
GenMe is also much more open about emotions. “In my generation, as opposed to my parents’ or my grandparents’, we are told to express our feelings and anger and sadness about our surroundings and not to hold them in,” says Ashley, 24. She’s not sure this is a good thing, however. “We are an emotionally spoiled generation. It can lead to more dramatic emotions when you are always discussing, sharing, analyzing them as our generation is led to feel they should do.”