Fatherless Generation with Videogames, Online Pornography
Interview with Philip Zimbardo
Well known all over the world after he did the powerful Stanford Prison Experiment from the 70s. Popular in Hungary since the successful Heroes Square movement was based on his Heroic Imagination Project. His new book with co-author Nikita Coulombe Man Dis(connected) How technology has sabotaged what it means to be male drew incredible interest in the Hungarian public. He writes very candidly about young males’ complex problems. Did he hit a nerve again? Does he talk about a social phenomenon that we are aware of, although don’t talk about? We asked the legendary social psychologist author, Philip Zimbardo, who just received the prestigious Kurt Lewin award.
Are you surprised by the public fascination of Man Dis(connected)?
I hoped for some interest, but I am surprised of its proportion. The book is already published in the United Kingdom, and Poland, will come out in China, soon. Two Hungarian publishers are competing to get the rights. I think in Hungary it helps that I am involved in Heroes Square movement. I go to Budapest quite often, give interviews frequently. Ironically, I am more popular in Hungary than in America. But still amazed by the expectations of the impact of the ideas presented in my book. It means that this global phenomenon is a Hungarian problem, too.
You are writing about generational issues. Why did you study only males?
Because, young men are failing academically, socially, and sexually as never before. In contrast, young women are surpassing their male counterparts in every field: in schools at every level -elementary schools, high schools, universities, at work places, and now even at sports. With surveys, interviews, and research we tried to determine the symptoms, find out the causes and implications. We concluded that many young males of this generation could be described as shy, introverted, impulsive, and with a lack of conscientiousness. Meanwhile girls are more independent, hard working, resilient and functioning in social networks.
Weak, feminine men, powerful, masculine women? Does it mean gender gap is narrowing?
It is much more complex. What I am saying is that social roles have changed a lot. Men are no more masculine, powerful, heads of family, breadwinners, and women are no more only housekeepers, caretakers. Women became more career oriented, willing to give up having big families, or want fewer children, so they can live more for their profession. Women have become more socially dominant, while men turned less dominant in choice. But while women found their new roles, thanks to feminist movements - among others- men have no acceptable alternative roles nowadays. In Man Disconnected I am saying that many young men in the newest generation are giving up any sense of masculinity. They don’t really care about being masculine, being dominant, or even working at a job. My concern in the coming years, if this process continues, young men are opting out of society. They don’t want any burden of performing academically, socially, or even sexually. We don’t know exactly what percentage of young men live like that. But it is a large number in many nations, and by all reports that percentage is increasing.
You blame - among others - dysfunctional families for the failure of the young generation. Do you argue for a traditional family at the time when it is going through dramatic changes?
I am saying children need two parents, a mother and a father. In a homosexual relationship one spouse can act like the father, the other can take up mother’s role. (In the book we didn’t deal with homosexual relationships and their impact on their children)
Fotó: Ajpek Orsi
But why are boys hit more than girls?
In an ideal family mother and father give different things to children. They give different kinds of love. Mothers give unconditional, nurturing love. Fathers demand discipline, give love conditionally. They reward their kids according to their achievements. For example, they can get allowance after they turn off their computer, or do well at school, or are successful in competitions. There is a special relationship between fathers and sons. Fathers want their sons to excel, sons look up to their fathers, ideally as role models. But now many boys grow up without a father at home due to increasing divorce and separation rates everywhere.
Without fathers, young men lose their achievement motivation. Today young men think they are entitled to get things. Nobody tells them that you have to work for everything, you have to earn things. Nobody teaches them that life is an exchange: this is what you get, this is what you give in return. But unfortunately, we live in a fatherless society. One quarter of the millennium generation is raised in a family, where fathers physically, emotionally are missing. Kids were either born in a family with single moms or fathers disappear after divorce.
Do you think divorce is too easy in the United States?
Yes, I think so. It is an easy process. Catholic Church forbids divorce, couples tried much harder to solve problems, to stay together. That was the past. Nowadays after the first conflict they go to court. In most cases it’s the women who initiate divorces. And the legal process helps them, too. Almost always they get custody of the child or children. Fathers pay child support and they can hardly see his kids. Women are independent, sometimes with successful career. They don’t want family confrontation, struggle with a spouse.
That’s why are you saying that we “we live in an individual society rather than in a family society ”?
We used to live in multigenerational families, where we had to adjust not only to parents, grandparents, but aunts, uncles. Families were strong foundations, they cared about each other, and they were there for others in need. In America this tight family structure is weakening. Now, young people are getting further away even from their parents. They live alone. Nowadays, in a marriage commitment, faithfulness, sacrifice, compromise is not a merit, but a burden on the spouses. Yes, they would rather live by themselves than give up anything. It is all about my life, my career, and my interest. It is not we, it is me. They don’t want to be part of a team. They give up the idea that we succeed as social animals, as a group. When young men escape our social world into the virtual world, everything is simple; it’s all about them and their computers. It is an ego-centric, narcissistic universe.
How should new technology be dealt with?
Technology is wonderful. It gives us so many opportunities. We can communicate easily all over the world. I give Skype lectures from my home to classes around the world-for free. We can get amazing amounts of information easily. But we have to find the balance between how much time to spend in front of our computers, and cell phones and time out for people. I am always concerned about the things Internet Addicts don’t do: they don’t form real relationships, don’t communicate with each other directly, don’t go out, don’t travel, don’t do sports, don’t read, don’t create, and so on. They are media consumers, taking and not giving.
I suggest we should monitor ourselves how much time we spend at computers. By the end of the week we can compare it in a family, and we will get shocking results.
When we did the research of young males’ videogame and porno online habits, we were worried about the excessive usage and its implications.
Fotó: Ajpek Orsi
Why are boys attracted to videogames?
Due to isolation, lack of motivation or goals, and uncomfortable social roles, boys find joy “living their life in their room” . Because they are unsuccessful in real life they seek security, validation and satisfaction in cyberspace. They want predictable, controllable activities. Videogames are exciting, intense, and full of actions, full of becoming “warriors”. Boys can beat enemies easily. They can be heroes in the virtual world. They can win. But this addiction can cause a series of problems: they lose real relationships, after all the video excitement they find school, and any work boring. It can result in mental disorders. And it can bring out excessive aggressiveness from them if they are playing war games.
Columbine high school, Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook elementary school, Charleston church. Recent mass shooters were all isolated young men, coming from dysfunctional families, spending excessive time with computers, playing videogames. Do you think more young men will blow up and do aggressive things?
The profile is correct. And on the Internet they can meet extreme, dangerous imaginary adversaries, they can be aggressive, too. But they don’t necessarily become murderers. United States is a special place with its love of guns culture. Almost everybody can own guns, and the
Constitution provides gun rights. Troubled, confused young men who don’t understand the consequences of real actions, with easily obtained weapons can cause harm to others. This happened recently with a young 21- year old racist white boy who killed many African Americans during their church service because he hated black people.
You are writing about online pornography as the new addiction for young men.
Online pornography is a new phenomenon, probably two-three years old. It cannot be compared to anything else in this field; it is widespread, accessible to anyone. A research sifted through over 400 million Internet researches and found that 55 million were erotic content. Huge number! In most cases these web sites are free, or very cheap. When you pay, they know your identity and they are coming back, try to make you dependent. No supervision, no restrictions, young boys can easily get them. Big variety of pornographic sites can be found on the Internet. Some of them are “traditional” hardcore pornos. Some of them are very personable ones. A beautiful young woman on the screen is talking to you, describes undressing you, and arouses you until orgasm. She imitates real sex with your penis, and this helps create a new generation of porn addicts.
Why do you consider this new phenomenon extremely dangerous?
Again, I have nothing against if somebody occasionally goes to such web sites. I am talking about addiction. In our survey we examined young males, some of them were around ten. These pre-puberty boys were introduced to sex life by online pornography. And they were trapped; they stay there and spend more and more time on the erotic sites. They don’t know what flirting, dating, romantic relationship or any relationships with girls mean. And maybe they will never know it. They are afraid or just lazy to contact girls in real life. The most shocking was a Japanese teenager, who said: “I give up sex. I want to live my life in my room. “ For me it means much more than refusing sex. He does not want family, children, and no sexual obligations.
Fotó: Ajpek Orsi
What nationality are the boys you surveyed?
We surveyed around 20 thousand young men from America. In England and Poland we did interviews. Our colleagues told us about the Internet lives of Asian kids. In Japan and Korea video games and animated porno is very popular among boys. We did not study Hungarian boys, although I asked the possible publisher to do a survey for us.
But Hungary has a big part of this phenomenon since Budapest is the world capital of producing porno web sites.
Is there a connection between the American college rape epidemic and online pornography addiction?
Boys, young men, who live on these web sites, see girls only as sex objects. They learn from online that girls seem to want hardcore porno, and brutality, so they want to imitate it. This creates a rape mentality that some boys act out. And some are very surprised that they can be dismissed from college, even can be prosecuted for this crime.
Can you recommend some solutions to these complex problems?
I believe everybody has to help in some way, has to be engaged. Government can have more family oriented initiatives. I would suggest more and better sexual education at schools. With higher salaries more male teachers should be attracted to schools. Female teachers are wonderful, but boys need role models at schools, too. I would urge cooperation not competition between boys and girls at school. Civil society can help, too. We have to have more male mentoring programs. We need mentors who can be father figures for boys.
Media has an important role, too. It is a link between social problems and the average person. Television has special responsibility in what to promote. Do they want to promote anorexia, skinny girls, like models, and excessively masculine tough men? Or do they want to give a more realistic representation of modern men and modern women?
And what do you suggest for boys and girls?
Don’t be antagonistic. Talk to each other. Share ideas. Try to work together. Dance with each other.
With your views one could be labeled as an old-fashioned, sexist, anti-Internet person. But you are just the opposite for young people who admire you, listen to you. What is your secret?
What is unique about me that I am always an ordinary person, even tough some regard me a celebrity. I came from a poor Sicilian family, had uneducated parents, and I never forgot my humble roots. I remain a simple, compassionate man. On the other hand, I am a researcher, a teacher and an entertainer at the same time. My job is to make psychology appealing. I always have time – and make time- for other people. I get hundreds of email letters from students around the world, and answer as many of them as possible. In the past, I always had some nice words to all those who asked autographs from me. Now I have nice words to those who only want “selfies” with me.
And I try to have a special relationship with Hungarian young people, not only in Budapest (now my second home), but here in San Francisco where I support the Hungarian-American innovators, through our newly organized, The Neumann Society. I do hope that my Hungarian friends will regard my new book as a wake-up call. And work in harmony to make life better and more appealing for our young men (and women) everywhere. That is my goal.