06/03/2010 02:16 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The New American Young Person: Now With 40% Less Empathy!


Fact: Young people of binge-drinking college age are completely self-centered, insufferable dorkmonkeys with the souls of immature doorknobs, and they have entirely vacuous Facebook pages to match. There, I said it.

No wait: Actually, science said it, more or less, via a strange and rather impossible new study, informing anyone who might care to listen that young people, well, they just don't really give a damn about you, the world or its pathetic little problems -- at least, not as much as they used to. Hey, it's a study. So you know it must be true.

Behold, one my favorite cultural gyrations. I simply love it when staid science furrows its brow, digs deep into the shallow gene pool that is the young, massively entitled, hormonally engorged, eternally baffled college-aged American animal, and attempts to examine his meager brain, draw out something resembling actual substance, evaluate it, quantify it and then claim it as some sort of valuable truism.

So it is we learn that young people today, particularly this sample of 14,000 college kids, admit to having roughly 40 percent less empathy than their peers of just 20 or 30 years ago -- i.e. youth of the late '70s and '80s, a gaggle of humans not exactly famous for their intelligence, substance and depth. But never mind that now.

According to the study, youth back then were significantly more concerned about their communities and the problems of others because -- can't you guess? -- well, for one thing, they didn't have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and iEverything, because the world was not 100 percent user-customizable to their every whim, click and pule, because they were not, in short, the ultranarcissistic Me Generation. They just had, uh, MTV. And drugs. And giant hair. And cynicism. And microwave ovens. And too much freedom. Remember? Neither do they.

So, is it true? Do modern college noobs care less about others' problems than their predecessors? Are they more self-centered, less willing to see others' views, less compassionate overall, more willing to post puerile, obnoxious anonymous comments in the comment section below and/or sneer at their friends' Facebook posts and not give a damn about anything -- the BP spill, your painful breakup, cancer -- unless it somehow affects them directly or steals their favorite iPhone app?

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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the SF Chronicle and SFGate. Get it at or Amazon;. He recently wrote about the KFC Double Down, the Texas Board of Education, and what it's like being part of the evil liberal conspiracy. His website is Join him on Facebook or email him. Not to mention...