iGen – science or advertisement?

Amy Orben on Jean Twenge's new book.

10 November 2017

There are science books written to promote science and there are science books written to promote the author. iGen is clearly the latter.

In this her most recent book, Jean Twenge neglects the opportunity to promote a balanced discourse about technology and focuses instead on promoting herself. Only three pages in, Twenge already discusses why ‘iGen’ – her name for the post-millennial ‘Generation Z’ – is superior to all other naming suggestions. She addresses her daughters in the acknowledgements: ‘If I name your generation, will you listen to me when I ask you to comb your hair?’ The book seems like an attempt to cement her terminology in science and her influence in the media. Given that the author spends 313 pages describing the descent of the recent generation into narcissistic tech addicts, this is quite ironic.

The book boasts an impressively long subtitle and there are graphs on almost every other page; however, this cannot shroud its lack of substance. The narrative revolves around Twenge’s analyses of four large-scale datasets. Her analysis, however, mainly involves graphing trends on varying x-axes and examining how these lines change over time. Not delving into the data, the author scratches the surface of each variable, describing how its visual trends fit her overarching hypotheses. These hypotheses include that current teens are less happy due to smartphones and that they are growing up slower than previous generations. While studies are periodically mentioned, the reader never gains a deeper understanding of each effect and is quickly moved on to the next variable. This creates a disjointed and difficult reading experience. Combining superficial science and self-interest, iGen sometimes reads more like an advertisement than a science book.

iGen: Why Today’s Super Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (and What That Means for the Rest of Us)
Jean Twenge
Simon & Schuster; Pb £12.95

- Reviewed by Amy Orben, who is a DPhil Candidate and College Lecturer, The Queen’s College, University of Oxford. Conflict of interest: Amy Orben identifies as an ‘iGen’ and has openly criticised Jean Twenge’s recent book, having debated with her on a BBC World Service Newshour Extra in September.