The Digital Ennui Epidemic in the Millennial Generation

08ddff0en·nui: änˈwē — noun; a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.

I love this image from the 1950s of a boy watching TV for the first time. Look at the sheer amazement in his expression.

What emotions must he be feeling?

Awe, surprise, amazement, curiosity, inspiration, delight?

Now, look in the mirror. When was the last time you were amazed like that?

One of the key things technology takes from us is our ability to feel appreciation for the small things, the big things, and the really, truly amazing things. Through the Internet and social media, we see feats, once considered unbelievable, done by anyone and everyone.

It makes it difficult to appreciate the small things in life, like the coming of spring or the curiosity of a child or a simple hiking trip with friends. If we can’t appreciate the big things in life, certainly appreciation for the small things becomes unattainable.

We become jaded. We live life in a constant state of ennui. I’ve often even encountered people who feel like a virtual experience of traveling to a place is the same as actually going to the place.

Wrong. All Wrong.

Recently I came across a YouTube video of a dad who showed his kids a 3D printing machine. Within a few runs of the machine, they were already asking for improvements to the design, complaining about the resolution, the speed, the end product.

Rather than being amazed even for an hour, they were already looking for the next improvement. Having an improvement mindset is great — this generation certainly is going to be focused on innovation. But being able to be satisfied is also a necessary skill in life. Always looking for the next great thing without sufficiently appreciating what you have leads to a very listless life, filled with ennui.

It takes time to cultivate that sense of appreciation again when you break out of a digital coma. But when you do, you get this amazing feeling of awe and immensity that fills you up inside. That sense of appreciation is about more than loving life. It fuels you with purpose and inspiration. Even if you’ve watched someone on YouTube climb a mountain or do a 360 on a snowboard, it is not the same as doing it yourself. Even more so, it is still a worthy goal to do it for yourself.

Consider instead this story, surprisingly well-written and thought provoking in this month’s United Hemispheres Magazine (yes, that’s the magazine that you read on flights when you travel too much!). A couple went on a journey through small English towns using a guide written in 1900, instead of using their GPS. Hence, a travel experience where they became much more attuned to their surroundings, albeit a little lost. Again, not saying you need to give up technology. Just consider, how can you use technology to help you truly experience life?

You don’t have to be first to be great. You just have to feel the greatness within yourself, whether externally people recognize it or not. Just remember that and get help breaking out of your own digital coma.

Have you seen this pattern emerging with teens and children you know? How do you see this trend impacting the workplace? Is there anything you would suggest actively doing to avoid digital coma?