Generations row over selfish society

20:26, Aug 26 2012
Nick Bartlett
NICK BARTLETT: They used technology to build an army to help Cantabrians.

The onslaught of television and death of communities is making us more self-centred and lacking in empathy, says an American psychiatrist.

Dr Bruce Perry said society has become starved of relationships, which is contributing to changes in our brain.

But his research into a more selfish society does not sit well with one Generation Y-er who said technology is creating a new type of global community.

Perry, an international expert on children's neuroscience, spoke to the Sunday Star-Times while visiting New Zealand to deliver a series of Brainwave Trust seminars.

More than 60 years ago the family spent a lifetime in a single community, surrounded by relatives and a wealth of relationships.

Now, families are constantly on the move, the television has become our evening companion and dinner at the table is no longer a norm.


Perry said this shift in society is having an effect on the areas in our brains that determine empathy.

"There is tremendous social isolation," he said. “When you have grown up in an environment like that you tend to be more . . . socially immature, so more self-centred and more self absorbed.”

Friendships and family add laughter, conversation and kinship to our lives, he said. Taking that away leaves a gap to be filled.

“If you are isolated and have relationship poverty . . . You'll eat more, smoke a little more or seek other rewards that aren't healthy.”

However, he said there was hope if people regulated their own and children's screen time and pushed for more nurturing relationships.

But a Auckland Generation Y-er scoffed at the idea that screen-time was starving him of relationships.

Nick Bartlett, 26, is not ashamed to admit he loves his gadgets. He's happy to pack up and move flats or cities and he is not afraid of pulling out his phone to check emails throughout the day.

But he said this does not make him - or his generation - selfish or less caring. “Take the likes of the student army in Christchurch. They used technology to build an army to help Cantabrians.”

In many ways the technology tools of his generation are more powerful connectors than letter-writing of yesteryear, he said.

“I don't think our generation is less involved in relationships," he said.

“People may have their heads buried in their phone or their iPad, but although they may not be having a physical conversation they could be emailing their mum or Skyping.”

Sunday Star Times