The Bling Ring: Does modern life make kids deluded?

By Tim Stanley

Film questions if Facebook generation has lost touch with reality.

Sometimes kids can look like they're living in another world. While the day whirls around them, they're lost in their mobile phones - photographing, tweeting, texting, emailing.

Living life doesn't seem be enough; they have to record and share it, too. It raises the questions, "how widespread is this phenomenon" and "should we be worried about it?".

Film director Sofia Coppola says it's gone too far and we're at risk of breeding a generation of brats who imagine they are movie stars. The "Me Me Me Generation" is ready for its close-up.

For her latest movie, The Bling Ring, Coppola said she conducted research by hanging out with teenagers in Los Angeles. Her conclusion was that young people live in a "scary" world of constant self-surveillance. "Everyone was texting, taking pictures, and I tried to put as much of that in the film as possible. It was almost sci-fi, this idea that living does not count unless you are documenting it."

Given the subject matter of The Bling Ring, it's understandable why Coppola was so disturbed. It's based on a true story about a gang of Hollywood adolescents in the Noughties who allegedly stole millions of dollars from celebrities.

They did it by tracing the stars' movements on stalker websites and burgling their houses when they were out. The gang robbed socialite Paris Hilton five times and stole nearly US$2 million ($2.48 million) in jewels before she noticed anything was amiss. They snorted coke off her furniture and one boy pranced about in her high heels in a kind of victory dance.

Paris Hilton is herself the product of youthful reality TV culture. The heiress of a hotel fortune, she made her name as a model, party girl and star of a notorious celebrity sex tape - a career that climaxed in a role in the Fox reality show The Simple Life. Paris was made famous by the very introspective, social media-obsessed culture that horrified Coppola and, arguably, motivated those Hollywood burglars.

It's interesting to note that teens don't tweet nearly as much as they use Facebook and text. Statistics show that adolescent tweeters are twice as likely to be female as male, which confirms the suspicion that most tweeting teens are simply online followers of Justin Bieber (he has 37.9 million). Studies of American teens show 93 per cent of them enjoy access to the internet and roughly two-thirds go online once a day. Over 70 per cent are on a social network and 41 per cent of Facebook users say they check their account obsessively.

What are they looking at? Over 80 per cent are leaving comments on photos or updating their banal statuses (they're not debating macroeconomics or planning a bank heist, they're "liking" photos of cats). In all, the evidence suggests teens are big users of the internet but not really into "content creation" - they don't have a large amount of original things to say or share. That's not surprising: they haven't even started living yet.

Is all of this unhealthy? For some, yes.

But there's a risk that in the rush to condemn our teens as an army of the living dead, we miss much that is good about social media interaction. For a start, they are only doing what the technology their seniors invented allows them to do. And long before mobile phones, people had just as equal a passion for recording their lives - just not the materials with which to do it.

Modern social media allow the sharing of events and, arguably, that has enhanced them. Rather than just experiencing the Eiffel Tour - led by the nose by a guide - Twitter encourages us to think about how we feel about it and then formulate a pithy comment. Then, thanks to the internet, thousands of people across the world can share that experience and add their own perspective.

Rather than turning teens into zombies, it's possible that it's expanding their opportunity and ability to analyse situations critically - to own an experience and, perhaps, actually experience it more deeply than they might otherwise have done. Facebook lets them curate photos of the trip; text lets them articulate how exciting it is.

Social media empowers us as individuals. For the lonely and awkward - and millions of teens fall into both categories - it's an opportunity to reach out and connect without actually having to meet in person. We read much about internet forums being a predators' playground but not nearly enough about how they've helped children build confidence and make friends.

Of course, it's unhealthy to think of a generation lost in recording the adventure of their own lives and incapable of simply living it. But this is the price we pay for technological change, and as technology expands individual freedom so it will increase vanity and self-absorption. Those teens texting and giggling in the back row of the Odeon are the future, whether we feel "smiley face" about that or not.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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