The Social Dilemma – A Millennial’s Personal Experience. Part 1: 2008-2012

Let me begin by sharing my own experiences with you: See, I’m a Millennial (I was born between 1978-84 (depending on who you listen to – not an exact science) and 1996-2000) – I was a grown man before I bought my first smartphone. I’d developed fully before I received my first WhatsApp notification. I remember […]

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Let me begin by sharing my own experiences with you:

See, I’m a Millennial (I was born between 1978-84 (depending on who you listen to – not an exact science) and 1996-2000) – I was a grown man before I bought my first smartphone. I’d developed fully before I received my first WhatsApp notification. I remember a world before broadband, social media and online dating! A world in which Digital was a (mostly) innocent, quirky, new thing we were all experimenting with.

Then came 2008…

One thing I struggle with is change, and a lot was changing at that time: we were still reeling from the 2008 Financial Crisis; those around me had suddenly lost incomes, homes and, as I remember most vividly, there was a big question mark over the futures we were working toward. A period of great uncertainty for young people.


I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but we were suddenly living in a different paradigm – a brave new world. For me, every time I think back to that time, the overriding memory was of the way in which my entire social network migrated from Bebo and MSN Messenger to Facebook (I was a teenager – this was really important!). Again, I struggle with change – so there I was insisting on keeping my Bebo profile and inviting people to webcam on MSN, to little avail…

Fast forward to 2010, a girl I met asked to add me on Facebook! I still remember the look of bemusement on her face when I told her to just text me. The look of bemusement on the whole table in fact (I was in college at the time). She was so incensed at the idea of taking my phone number that she sat and talked me through how Facebook works on this new thing she had called a ‘smartphone’.

I was amazed – she had actual internet on her phone. Not WAP/GPRS 🙄, actual internet! She also informed me that she was paying £35 per month for the phone (😲) and it was one of those iPhones that I thought only business executives used.

I was still walking to the Coop to put £5 on my credit every month or so…

She quickly went off me (and I think this was why). I had no social media presence with which to market myself to her. I was out of the loop. I had no status.

Until now, it had been a fairly simple process – meet in person>get the number>sit on MSN until 3AM every night, and so on… Now, I suddenly had to build my ‘friends list’ up through ‘random adds’; check in at certain pubs; take photos making silly faces in massive groups of friends on nights out. It was suddenly all about being seen to be having fun, as opposed to actually having fun. This was exacerbated ten-fold when Instagram hit the scene in 2012…

Anyway, to bring this to a close: I remember catching the train to uni – January 2012. I picked up the Financial Times (I was a Business student). HEADLINE NEWS!: The UK’s Gross Domestic Product had grown in two consecutive quarters (we were out of recession!!!). Things could return to how they in 2006 – right? We’ll see…

2008-2012 was a period of complete social, political and economic upheaval in the UK – it makes complete sense that ‘outlook/optimism’ would be impacted. Yet, I noticed something more. While I’d suffered with Social Anxiety my whole life, to the point I barely spoke to anyone outside a select group of people for about 15 years, everyone else started getting ‘Anxiety’ – or so it seemed.

The outgoing, sociable, confident people I grew up with were becoming more insular; awkward; self-conscious. The Social Dilemma documentary, currently on Netflix (which prompted this series), shows that this is reflected in sociological studies of the US during that time period. This concoction of significant change, smartphones and the permeation of social media into the very fabric of teenagers’ lives was to define the next 10 years.

Enough for now: I hope this has been a stimulating insight into my experience of the 2008-12 time period, as a Millennial. Going forward, I will dive into the next 10 years and, importantly, the social media addiction I battled. You see, I remained teetotal for most of that 10 years, adamant I wouldn’t allow myself to get addicted to a substance, yet this one got me. I didn’t have the tools to deal with it. I fear for the next generation after me, Generation Z, who grew up with a smartphone in their hands; who never experience a world in which you couldn’t just ‘Google it’; whose entire understanding of social interaction is premised on digital, not physical, interaction.

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