You almost certainly learned about Philip Zimbardo in school. In 1971, as a Stanford University psychology professor, he conducted the infamous “Stanford prison experiment” wherein he recruited 24 students to populate a simulated basement jail. Some of the students Zimbardo made “guards” quickly turned hard, authoritarian, and psychologically abusive. Some of those he made “prisoners” simply surrendered to this abuse. But if Zimardo’s newest observations about human psychology have hit the mark, you might have failed to learn anything school had to teach you at all — assuming, that is, you’re a young man. In “The Demise of Guys?“, the TEDtalk embedded above, he argues that “guys are flaming out academically,” that “they’re wiping out socially with girls, and sexually with women.” He sees them laboring under “a new fear of intimacy,” of “physical, emotional connection with somebody else, especially with somebody of the opposite sex who gives off ambiguous, contradictory, phosphorescent signals.” Outperformed by girls “at every level,” guys would rather play video games or watch football with a barful of strangers than engage in direct, meaningful human contact.
Zimbardo blames this allegedly poor showing by the modern male on not simply video games, excessively compelling sports media, or the lure of “the asynchronistic internet world,” but the broader development of all sorts of technologies all geared to deliver “change, novelty, excitement, and constant arousal.” This, according to his argument, has thrown a wrench into the mental machinery of today’s guys, rendering them totally ignorant of “the language of face contact” and “the rules that enable you to talk to somebody else, to listen to somebody else.” And don’t even get him started on how the pornography industry, more robust than ever, has created an “arousal addiction” worse than real drug addiction: “Drugs, you want more,” Zimbardo explains. “Arousal, you want different.” (Can Alain de Botton help?) This new and unquenchable thirst for “change, novelty, excitement, and constant arousal” puts guys “totally out of sync” with the gradual progress and subtlety of proper education and romantic relationships. Perhaps you’d expect to hear such an indictment of modern society from a professor emeritus nearing eighty years of age. Even he admits that “I’m here to alarm,” but I respond as a guy about to leave for a date as soon as I finish writing this post: mission accomplished.
Update: It looks like Zimbardo has released an 80 page ebook, co-written with Nikita Duncan, that’s also called The Demise of Guys. If you’re looking for some elaboration on the issues raised above you can buy the $2.99 book for the Kindle, Nook and iPad.