In her article entitled Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, Jean Twenge lays out the argument that the use of smartphones and social media amongst teens has led to staggering rates of depression. She claims that the difference from the last generation is not just a matter of a slight increase, but, rather, the results of numerous studies and surveys, indicates that teen depression and suicide are happening at unprecedented rates. Throughout the article, she discusses numerous conversations and the results of decades of studying the problem, both which point to the fact that children today interact differently with their peers, have less quality of a childhood, have less quality sleep, date and have sex less, and show the signs of addiction to their phones and social media. As a trained psychologist and academic, she presents her argument skillfully and effectively with a clear understanding of her audience. Therefore, what follows below is not necessarily a review of the article, but, rather, it is an analysis of how effective her rhetoric is in conveying her message to her audience.
To begin with, any skilled writer or speaker needs to have a clear understanding of his or her audience. If not, the message will certainly be lost, and Twenge seems to have a clear grasp of this idea and of who she is writing for. That is, she is aware that her audience are not trained psychologists and academics like her and that they are most likely parents themselves. Therefore, she lays out her argument using language that is simple to understand, in that she avoids technical jargon, as it would be confusing and off putting. Furthermore, she avoids dense statistics, as these would be unintelligible to her audience. Instead, she provides easy to understand graphs, followed by a simple explanation of them. These help her audience follow along with her without losing them to more complex ideas. Also, because her audience are not as trained as she is, Twenge keeps the paragraphs in her article short and to the point, which helps the reader move quickly through article. Overall, Twenge understands that she is not speaking to trained academics, and she adjusted her rhetoric accordingly.
Furthermore, she gives weight to her argument by establishing herself as an expert. That is, early on in the article she lets the reader know that she had a PhD and that she has decades of experience studying the difference between generations. Also, throughout the article, she presents her own findings, which makes her seem even more credible, as well as the research of others, making her appear to be more educated. For example, she claims that “In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate” which is not her own statistic (Twenge, 2017). The effect of this is that it gives her and her argument a lot of credibility, giving the reader more of a reason to continue reading.
Moreover, Twenge uses the powerful rhetorical technique of emotional appeal. Because this article is likely being read by an audience that has their own children and are of a similar age as the author, she does a good job of appealing to them. That is, in the beginning of the article she talks about what it was like for her growing up, such as her experience getting her first car or what it was like dating. She also shares her experiences with her own child. For example, she claims “I’ve observed my toddler, barely old enough to walk, confidently swiping her way through an iPad” (Twenge, 2017) This is something that many members of her audience are likely to have experienced as well. The overall effect of this is that it makes the problem seem more important because the audience now realizes that it is happening in their homes as well.
Lastly, Twenge ends the article with a discussion of the solutions and a call to action. That is, she proposes the idea that parents need to be more involved in their children’s phone lives, and that even Steve Jobs put limits on his children’s time that they could spend on technology. This is a powerful rhetorical technique as it conveys the idea that problem is solvable and that the next generation is not completely lost. In fact, she shares a story of her observing some teens that have begun to realize the negative effects of that their phones are having on them. Leaving the audience on a positive note helps the audience digest what they have read and more likely to take action to solve the problem.
Overall, Twenge uses a series of powerful rhetorical techniques to effectively convey her point that the overuse of smartphones and social media are resulting in radically increased rates of depression and decreased quality of life for children. That is, she uses the techniques of using audience appropriate language and statistics, which allows her audience to follow what she is saying, establishing her credibility as an expert, which gives the audience a reason to listen to her, creating an emotional connection with the audience, which makes her argument easier for the audience to digest, and ending the article on a positive note and a call to action, which creates a sense that the problem is solvable. The use of all of these techniques together have created a well written and effective article that is sure to have a strong impact on the audience.
- Twenge, J. M. (2017, September). Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/