By Dr David Laing Dawson
The other day I sat with a father and his 16 year old daughter. She was curled up in her chair, head bent over her phone, constantly texting seven friends. She did listen to the conversation though and stated that she was quite capable of “multi-tasking”. Then her head would go down again and her thumbs would flit about the screen of her phone. She was not attending school.
And it occurred to me that what I was observing was a hive. I was thinking bees, garden variety bees, drones at work in swarms and single file.
Bees are not quite Borgs. Each bee is a single entity but capable of working, moving in unison, in tandem, in swarms, subsuming any individual needs or impulses to the needs and actions of the hive. And though we know some genetics may be involved we also know this is achieved through constant communication. Movement and pheromones, choreography and smell.
The other thing we know about bees is that a hive is a hive and that it does not play well with other hives.
And something we know about humans is that though they have evolved to the head of the food chain, each carries within him or her the seeds of regression, the DNA of the species that came before us.
Pulling these disparate thoughts together was the smartphone, for suddenly, at least quite suddenly in historic terms, an instrument has landed in the hands of our adolescents that allows them to be bees, to form hives, albeit fragile hives, through a constant (24/7) stream of communication, checking and monitoring and correcting behaviour, appearance, pecking order, membership, attitude and bond.
Like bees, membership in one hive precludes membership in another. Unlike bees though, one misstep in these communications can bring expulsion from the hive, and unlike bees these teens have a full range of non-hive impulses, other needs to satisfy, other loyalties to balance, often in conflict with the hive.
The tendency to hive was always there among us humans, especially our adolescents, but usually limited by other loyalties, activities, communication time, boundaries and realities. A gang might form only when those other loyalties were weak or poor or broken.
We used to talk of peer pressure, peer pressure in conflict with the expectations of parents, and sometimes in conflict with the health and welfare of the teen. But back then unsupervised peer communication was limited to a few hours a day.
And now, quite suddenly, it is far more than this. The constant buzz and hum of the smartphone turns “peer pressure” into hives.
No wonder our adolescents are collapsing with anxiety or hiding in their rooms with increasing frequency.