• A Millennial question — where is the fact checker now?

    I’ve spent the past three weeks in the company of a 23-year-old. Nearly every waking moment of every waking hour. Being 50 and childless, it has been interesting to see how my niece has grown into an adult in my absence but now is enjoying, I hope, my company.  I have noticed one thing about her in particular and this is the need for constant stimulation.  If the room is quiet, the TV is turned on even as background noise. When she’s not watching TV or experiencing something directly, she is glued to her phone, playing games or watching anime or other tv series. Quiet times are punctuated with the sound of her voice. Although this might sound like a complaint, it is not. It is simply an observation.

    I remember empty times in my mid-twenties where I was able to spend time alone. No distractions, either on top of hills, by rivers, exploring cities or in my own home, I daydreamed and found activities to occupy myself. I drew, I played music, wrote, read. I kept myself busy in creative ways.   I developed interests.

    On reflection, this 23-year-old has done exactly that, developed interests, the difference being noncreative — TV and social media. What will be her life in years to come? What foundation is she laying down for a well balanced human being who can navigate relationships when the only ones she seems to negotiate are fictional or virtual?

    On one particular day, I mention travel and her eyes glaze over. I’d love to go to Tokyo, she says. She has read about it and watched programs on it. Later she muses on Mexico City and the Frida Kahlo museum and I realise I have been mistaken. She’s not just living a virtual life, she’s on a drip-feed of information through her phone. Anything I talk about which she doesn’t understand or know, I see her searching for it on the net. Her knowledge may be virtual, but it’s still knowledge.

    I discover she collects art. It may not be Braque or Dali, but it’s modern, and something I don’t understand. I take her to an art gallery and she soaks it up along with the virtual information she downloads — she ends up knowing more about the exhibition and the artist than I do, but she can’t make a decision on which is the best piece.  Now, I love my phone, the internet, the accessible information and I realise I’m not using it to its full potential so I decide to copy her and whenever she looks something up — so do I. After a week, I admit I have amassed more facts (which I have had to fact check) but I haven’t used the one thing I realise I rely on more than anything. Intuition.

    Thanks to this millennial, I have discovered something I never thought I could say about myself.  I like to take a leap into the unknown. Knowing the plot of a movie might show me whether I might like it but ruins the excitement which comes from the expectation of the unknown.  I don’t want to know the plot twist in a murder mystery before I watch the film or read the book. I want to be tempted by a trailer and teased by good editing.

    Furthermore, I want to trust my intuition when it comes to meeting someone — I don’t need to stalk them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter before I get to know them. The virtual world shows us what someone else wants us to see of them.  People’s profiles are positive, not flawed and balanced like actual humans. I want to judge someone on how I interpret their attitude toward me, I want to see them, hear them, watch them and even smell them.  Intuition — is it the culmination of my experiences which help me make decisions based on something unseen and immeasurable?

    Intuition is all I have when I have no fact-checker to hand or history to gobble up and spit back out.  I used it when I decided on the dates I went on when I was single. I used it when I met potential bosses at job interviews. I used it to decide on whether it was safe or not to continue with specific situations in specific locations. Intuition taught me to talk to my attacker and to fight back when I could win, and probably saved my life.  Intuition facilitated me giving someone a second chance when no one else did, and that person has never since trashed my values.

    I’ve tried but I can’t find intuition online, not beyond its meaning anyway. I love the anticipation which comes with the leap of faith involved in following my intuition, that gut feeling which precedes the decision. No conscious thought or perceived conscious involvement.

    John Kappas PhD. In his Theory of Mind, declared that 12 percent of the mind is devoted to conscious thought, thus 88 percent is devoted to subconscious thought. The part of reasoning that is ancient and instinctive. The part of mind which amongst other things, harbours, memory, emotion, regulation of the different systems of the body and importantly, the fight or flight instinct. Intuition relies on instinct which comes from our  subconscious ‘mind.’  Is this instinct genetic or cultivated?   I am of the mind that it is both.

    So back to my young companion of the past 21 days. How will she develop intuition without direct, first-person experiences or does she have enough genetic instinct to help? Will her vacuuming of facts, not always fact-checked, give her the appropriate skills to develop and what if her genetics lack the blueprint I have? Am I being closed minded and negative about her generation’s ability to flourish with the same skills and talents my generation has enjoyed? Will her decision-making always be driven by the access she has to facts and involve conscious reasoning? I hope not. Even though she may make mistakes and her intuition might be off from time to time, even though her instinct may need to be developed, I dream of a time and circumstance where she will be able to react to the world without conscious thought and enjoy the anticipation and positive sense of self which come with relying on intuition.


      • Christine Philpott

      • November 26, 2019 at 12:36 pm
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      Intuition is a fascinating topic and you have given me a lot to think about Jane . Perhaps it’s important that the people around you validate your intuition, or there again , perhaps not !


      • Robyn Rollston

      • November 26, 2019 at 7:05 pm
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      I really enjoyed this. You have articulated very succinctly, reservations I have also had about today’s techno dependent youth


      • Neil

      • November 26, 2019 at 10:58 pm
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      Always a pleasure and thought provoking


      • Robyn g

      • November 27, 2019 at 12:47 am
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      Interesting observations



    • I suppose there is no ‘intuition checker’ as such, except for when our intuitions are put to the test. Is a fact dominated culture a sort of modern take on Gradgrind in Dickens’s ‘Hard Times’. I imagine intuition is just a part of a vast spectrum of non-fact-based knowing. What makes me turn down a particular street on a particular day? Whatever intuition is part of, we are ‘driven’ by it to a huge extent. Dangerous though. I met my wife because on my first day at Oxford I broke a rule that I had kept to until then and have never broken since. I was about to enter a cafe for some lunch. I had nothing to read. I turned and headed for a newagent to buy a paper. Halfway there, I suddenly turned again and went in for lunch WITH NOTHING TO READ!!! I ended up at a table with a young woman. If I’d gone in straight away I would have been at a different table. If I had bought the paper I would have arrived later and would again have been at a different table. I got to know the young woman. I eventually met her sister, and in time I married that sister. You make very good points, Jane. We have access to facts in ways unimagined when i was young. Useful, but cluttering? I wonder if your neice can be helped to see how influenced she actually is by ‘intuition’.



      • I think we need to have hope in our younger generations – intuition – it will come to us all in one way or another


      • Amy

      • November 27, 2019 at 2:06 am
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      This is an interesting take on millennial’s apparent addiction to their phones, they do get a lot of bad press for it, but there’s nothing wrong with being knowledgeable. I too wonder how it will effect them in the future, knowing how to turn off and find peace in silence is really important especially when things in life get more than uncomfortable even tragic. I don’t think you’re being negative about intuition either, if everything has to be “fact checked” before you take action you’ll miss so many opportunities. There’s a saying in boxing “if you see an opening, it’s gone”, meaning by the time you’ve spotted an opening to cleanly hit someone, by the time you respond it just won’t be there anymore, you have to work intuitively and that comes from real time practice and experience. Great article. Love it.


      • John M.

      • November 27, 2019 at 5:55 am
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      Perhaps intuition is being supplanted by a socialization to corporate-driven algorithms? It seems to me that unless one does deep dives into the results from search engines, the knowledge one acquires through these mechanisms will be the “low hanging fruit”– what pops up first. I heard someone on a radio program last week say that “algorithms are just prejudice expressed in mathematical form.” That struck a nerve. I think we have to become much more literate about our systems of knowledge, how they are now being compiled and distributed as well as standards of evaluation. I’m thinking here of the French philosopher Jacques Ellul’s book about propaganda, namely that it produces orthodoxy but also what he calls “ortho-praxy.” How is technology programming us to act in ways that narrow our scopes of inquiry, including incorporating intuition or hunches? Or just chance?

      Re millennials, I think your observation is a good one. It is easy to see them as passive receptors of knowledge, or worse yet uncaring and self-absorbed. I find myself thinking this often. But, two years ago I went back to school— to a theological seminary for some study of the sociology of religion— and it has brought me into contact with twentysomethings other than my own children. I’ve been really pleasantly surprised at their willingness to challenge received wisdom, and their quests to be agents of change. Seeing this has allowed me to maintain some optimism during what otherwise seems a rather pessimistic time.

      Thanks for a really thoughtful read, beautifully written as ever.



      • Thank you John for taking the time to pen your much considered comments. There are so many factors to think about in your words too.



    • Fantastic insight. An entire generation is being psychologically truncated.



      • I think it’s important to stay positive and focused on a better future rather than a worse one.. or perhaps i am simply an optimist.


      • Pete Yetton

      • November 29, 2019 at 1:17 am
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      I made a similar comment with regards to my son, who’s 15. His knowledge on current affairs is exemplary, due to his hand held ‘Britannica’. In my early years of sponge brain square eyes as i hoovered up stats and dates with my love of history, it was Encylcopaedia Britannica in theb hallway that expanded my knowledge. In comparison i was far behind this 6ft teen modern version of me! He had a Modern Studies exam recently and got 96%…with what seemed like minimal learning. There i was proved wrong. The screen time that annoyed me was in fact him being creative with a new science. His ability to scrutinise and critically analyse fact from fiction is on point, as he has so much tripe to sift through. So the way I see this is that his intuition to recognise reality and truth from virtual blind alleys and fakery, is honed for his generation. What is sadly lost at the moment is the love of reading a continuous text…a book!! Then again he is but 15, and he has time on his side to explore and discover passion, compassion and empathy. A thought provoking read Jane. Lovely observation and reflective empathy.



      • Thank you Pete and I’m glad your son is not also a gatherer of info but is using his critical mind as well.



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