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On Phoebe Bridgers

Are social media companies the new big tobacco?

Photo by Pivot Family / Unsplash

Is Phoebe Bridgers the new Bob Dylan, writing more profound songs to wake up her generation?

While we joke about Taylor Swift writing her next song about her next ex, Bridgers (like Dylan in the early 1960s) finds a way to meld her music with deeper calls to question society and the meaning of life itself.

Dylan and the folk singers of the early 1960s sang about war and changing times, but Bridgers, 29, is at the cusp of late Millennials and Gen Z (Zoomers) who have spent their lives staring at screens, driven to distraction (constantly) by devices.

She rips at the hearts of everyone who stared too long at a smartphone

“Garden Song” from her 2020 album Punisher, describes being 17 and falling from walls and hopping fences before she “knew what I wanted,” and then grabs the heart of everyone who ever stared too much at a phone:

“And when I grow up, I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life
And it’s gonna be just like my recurring dream.”

Are social media and smartphones the new big tobacco? Thirty years ago, the government (both federal and state attorneys general) said our children were addicted to smoking and went after the industry, demanding monetary settlements.

Today, we are addicted to smartphones and social media.

She describes being at the movies and remembering “what I’m seeing.
The screen turns into a tidal wave. Then it’s a dorm room like a hedge maze
And when I find you, you touch my leg, and I insist.”

But then she wakes up before anything meaningful happens.

The new book detailing the data behind her music: The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s new bestseller, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, warns this device addiction means “we are forever elsewhere.”

Americans became “techno-optimists” in the 20th century, thinking that new technology would keep boosting productivity and improving lives. But somewhere between 2010 and 2015, Haidt’s research shows “The Great Rewiring” began with kids replacing play-based childhoods with a new phone-based culture.

Above: Phoebe Bridgers warns about slavery to our devices in “Garden Song.”

Haidt writes that parents and teachers became overprotective in the “real world” while becoming “under-protective about the virtual world,” where far more dangerous predators lurked.

The great rewiring that has had many Americans staring at screens up to 13 hours per day changed all relationships, especially among Generation Z (born from about 1997 to 2012).

Heavy use of phones and social media shows cumulative effects, hurting students’ ability to focus. Nearly half of U.S. teens say that they are online “almost constantly.” And psychology research shows we learn far less when we are distracted by competing priorities.

From Demi Moore to ‘The end is near,’ she digs deeper into the heart of her Millennial and Gen Z generations

In “Demi Moore,” she writes about the empty loneliness of sexting and digital technology communications: “Take a dirty picture, babe. I can’t sleep, and I miss your face. In my hands and in my knees. Tell me what you wanna do to me.”

But she gets to the agony of living life alone, staring at screens looking for digital satisfaction: “I don’t wanna be alone. Don’t wanna be alone anymore.”

Above: Phoebe Bridgers singing “Demi Moore.”

In “City Limits,” Bridgers writes about not even knowing exactly where we are, somewhere in Germany (a spot she can’t place) or in a “part of Texas.” So she sits back and:

“Close my eyes, fantasize. Three clicks, and I’m home.”

But what happens if you reach your destination without knowing your purpose? “When I get back, I’ll lay around then I’ll get up and lay back down — romanticize a quiet life. There’s no place like my room. But you had to go.”

Above: Phoebe Bridgers singing, “I know the end.”

She describes “a wave that crashed and melted on the shore — not even the burnouts are out here anymore.”

“After a while, you went quiet, and I got mean,” she laments. “I’m always pushing you away from me. But you come back with gravity, and when I call, you come home: A bird in your teeth.”

She’s fighting for something new, singing, “I’m not gonna go down with my hometown in a tornado. I’m gonna chase it.”

Seeing the young’s search for meaning and purpose, she writes that she “went looking for a creation myth — ended up with a pair of cracked lips.”

We debate whether the unknown is “a government drone or an alien spaceship. Either way, we’re not alone.”

Image by Mircea Iancu from Pixabay.
“And when I grow up, I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life — And it’s gonna be just like my recurring dream.”

This essay originally appeared on Pop Off.

When She Grows Up, She’ll Look up From Her Phone and See a New Life
The music of Phoebe Bridgers makes us ask: Are social media companies the new big tobacco?