POKOLENIE (F) FRAGMENTACJA/ GENERATION (F) FRAGMENTATION
Onno Hansen-Staszyński, Beata Staszyńska-Hansen
Published in: Biuletyn Edukacji Medialnej, Catholic University Lublin - 2/2016, pp. 36-43
In their research the authors found that youngsters (aged 8–18) in Poland, the Netherlands and
Greece display remarkable behavior in the classroom1
. To start with, most youngsters are
incapable of concentrating on one activity for a prolonged time2
. Then, extreme student
opinions that are emotionally phrased and defended dominate current classroom discussions3
Finally, for many youngsters abstract thinking is a challenge4
. In this article the authors
suggest that an important underlying cause for the remarkable youngster behavior is identity
Fragmentation is a container concept. It stretches from Erving Goffman’s playing roles5
Robert Kurzban’s modularity of the brain6
. The concept of fragmentation as used in this
article refers to a fragmentation of the identity narrative, as described by Anthony Giddens7
is a fragmentation of “the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her or his
. Non-pathological individuals, according to Giddens, keep this narrative going in
a consistent fashion. Giddens sees the narrative both as fragile and robust: “Fragile, because
the biography the individual reflexively holds in mind is only one ‘story’ among many other
potential stories that could be told about her development as a self; robust, because a sense of
self-identity is often securely enough held to weather major tensions or transitions in the
social environment within which the person moves.”9
In this article the authors will attempt to
show that this sense of self-identity is not “securely enough held” by youngsters anymore and
O. Hansen-Staszyński, Waarom jongeren extremer reageren,,
Unpublished results from projects by the authors (2010-2015) as confirmed by 91% of teachers (N=117),
participating in a training program by the authors: E-LAB DT.
E. Goffman, The presentation of self in everyday life, New York 1959.
R. Kurzban, Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite, Princeton 2010.
A. Giddens, Modernity and self-identity, Cambridge 1991.
Ibid, p. 53.
A. Giddens, above cited, p. 55.
Testing in an individual setting
In many of their projects10
the authors implemented an exercise that involved workshop
participants answering an identity question: who are you until now? The question was asked
twice in an individual setting. The first time participants were taken out of a group session
unprepared and faced with the question in front of a camera. The second time participants had
learned about identity and film grammar, had seen their first recording and were assuming the
role of director of the recording of their answer.
The exercise was implemented for three age groups in the Netherlands, Poland, and Greece
(N=274): 11-14, 15-18, and adults. Answering the first question was not something that came
easy to the vast majority of participants: nearly all (80%-95%) took a shorter or longer pause
to start answering, while some did not provide any answer at all (5%-15%). Answering the
second question for no one involved a pause before answering or lead to a complete silence.
5% to 10% of the participants (in all age groups) answered the question in the two different
settings identically or near identically. The other participants either added or subtracted
information (30%-40%) or changed their answer completely or nearly completely (50%-
When asked why participants gave a (near) identical answer twice, they provided statements
like “that is who I am”, “that is my answer”, or “that is how it is”. When those who added or
subtracted information were asked why they changed their answer, they provided statements
like “I had time to think about it more”, “I was more prepared” or “I saw myself and decided I
wanted to change things”. When those who changed their answer (near) completely were
asked they would provide statements like “the first time I did not know what to say”, “I was
not prepared” or “I was spontaneous first and then I thought about it”.
The participants who had answered the question twice (nearly) identically typically had given
answers like: “I am human”, “I am me” or “I am a student and I love to play guitar”. Their
statements were hardly what one would expect to find in a reflexive auto-biographical
narrative as understood by Giddens. Rather, the answers consisted of truisms or an
enumeration of a (small) selection of social roles that the individuals perceived themselves to
Based on these outcomes the authors concluded that most identity narratives were not robust.
And that the vast majority, and maybe all, of the identity narratives were formulated on the
Testing in a group setting
To find clues about the possible a-priori character of identity narratives the authors created a
test in a different setting. In this setting every participant was asked the identity question -
O. Hansen-Staszyński, B. Staszyńska-Hansen, E-LAB DT, Gdańsk 2015, p. 13-41. English, updated version:
who are you until now? - while facing a camera, and while being in a class room together with
the other participants.
Over the course of nine tests patterns became visible in the answering by the participants (all
age groups, N=127). To start with, the first person in eight tests out of nine took the longest
time to answer. The second and following participants typically would answer quicker. In six
tests the majority (ar. 70%) of the participants repeated the answer that was given by the first
participant identically or partially. In three tests the majority of participants ignored the
answer that was given by the first person and provided an individual answer. Still, only a
limited number of structures for these answers would be used.
In the six tests that the majority answered more or less similar to the first person the second
and the third person used the structure, and in two cases the content, of the answer of the first
participant. In the other tests, the second or third participant deviated from this structure. It
was noted that the closer the contact between the participants was beyond the test setting, the
more participants followed the structure of the answer of the first participant.
The authors concluded that the structure of the participant identity narratives was created on
the fly. The first participants struggled with creating a frame11
for the situation – to which
they admitted in follow-up interviews while the other participants faced the choice to either
accept the frame, create an alternative frame, or choose between existing frames.
Testing in mixed settings
In a third test12
youngsters aged 14-15 (N=20) were asked the identity question - who are you
until now? – in three different rounds: individually on camera, in front of the class, and by
filling out a questionnaire while being in class. In the first round they were also asked to
describe their parents’ and friends’ perspectives on who they are and to choose the most
fitting perspective. In the second round a selection of four youngsters were shown the
recordings after which two other youngsters had to choose the most fitting perspective. Then,
the selected participant was asked to react and to answer the identity question once more. The
third round followed immediately after the second.
95% of the youngsters formulated at least one external perspective on their identity that varied
to some degree from their own perspective on their identity; 85% formulated two. 53% chose
their own perspective as the most fitting, 42% their parents’ and 5% their friends’.
During the three rounds none of the participants gave identical answers while 15% gave
similar answers and 85% gave different answers. The answers that were provided in the third
round seem to have been influenced by the answer by the first participant in the second round
who changed her original answer to: “myself.” In the third round ten participants (50%),
E. Goffman, Frame analysis, an essay on the organization of experience, Boston 1974.
Conducted in cooperation with a Dutch national radio programme 3FM Tussenuur. Unpublished.
including the first participant, had changed their original answer to an answer in the third
round containing the word “myself”.
The tests in three different settings provide strong indications that youngsters understand the
fragility of their identity narratives and in quite a few cases prefer their parent perspectives on
themselves over their own. In addition, their identity narratives seem to be constructed on the
fly, whereas the structure and content of these narratives seem highly context-sensitive.
Youngster sense of self-identity seems often not strongly enough held to weather “major
tensions and transitions” – which is why the authors dubbed them “Generation F”. Below
“major tensions and transitions” will be examined.
External “major tensions or transitions”
According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman13
our late modern society has turned “liquid”:
everything changes too fast for its citizens to develop new routines or to come up with
reflections. This liquidity manifests itself in the social and political realm as well as in the
technological realm. Traditional media are in search of a new business model, currently often
favoring speed and eyeballs over depth and accuracy14
. Online media often create echo
chambers and filter bubbles15
that exclude information that could cause cognitive dissonance.
The dominant online information format is short messages rather than long reads while the
use of technology in itself inspires users to be more short-term oriented16
. In politics populist
and polarizing emotions are often employed instead of rational arguments and in many cases
. Bauman tells us that in these circumstances individuality is an illusion
while identities have to be adaptable to be relevant18
For youngsters, additional external “tensions or transitions” stem from their parents and the
educational system. Currently parents have often exchanged their roles as guiding authorities
for the role of a friend who empowers their child’s own opinions and choices19
. At schools
Z. Bauman, Identity, Cambridge 2004; Z. Bauman, Liquid life, Cambridge 2005; Z. Bauman, Liquid times,
The case against the media, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/case-against-media.html
F.i. T. Lapinski, Dear Democrats, read this if you do not understand why Trump won,
F.i. S. Benartzi, Why I don’t make financial decisions on my smartphone,
F.i. N. Cole, The psychology of BREXIT, http://www.conversion-uplift.co.uk/psychology-behind-uk-leaving-
Z. Bauman, above cited.
A. Weghorst, Anders, Utrecht 2016.
most school teachers are overburdened20
and lack the time for prophylactics conversations
with their students21
These external processes lead for youngsters to a lack of availability of cohesive narratives to
interpret and understand the “liquid” reality in which they live.
Youngster ”major tensions or transitions”
The lack of available coherent narratives is augmented by a process that finds its starting-
point in a behavioural routine that characterizes many youngsters: multitasking22
Levitin writes: “our brains are “not wired to multitask well. ... When people think they are
multi-tasking, they are actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And
every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” ... Even though we think that we’re
getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient. Multitasking
has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-
or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or
scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively
rewarding the brain for losing focus and constantly searching for external stimulation.”23
Multitasking leaves little energy for what Levitin calls ‘the mind-wandering mode”. This
mode involves “[e]nvisioning or planning one’s future, projecting oneself into a situation
(especially a social situation), feeling empathy, invoking autobiographical memories”24
Multitasking also causes less information to reach our short-term and long term-memory.
Since “[a]ttention is a limited-capacity resource”25
, multitasking is the enemy of focus. Our
brain has a processing limit of 160 bits per second, or roughly two concurrent conversations26
and thus cannot process all information generated by multitasking. Next, multitasking
shortens the length of our concentration spans. Research found that it takes youngsters on
average six minutes to go into task-switching mode27
. Then, the effective IQ of those
multitasking has been measured to be lower by 10 points28
. And finally, learning information
while multitasking “causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain”29
effect of multitasking is larger for adolescent brains30
F.i. Rik Kuiper, ‘Docent wordt structureel overbelast door schoolbestuur’,
Unpublished outcomes of the authors’ interviews with teachers during their projects.
F.i. Generation M2, http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/ [11.11.2016].
D. Levitin, The organized mind, New York 2014, p.96.
Ibid., p. 38.
Ibid., p. 16.
Ibid., p. 7.
L. Rosen, Facebook and texting made me do it,
D. Levitin, above cited, p. 97.
K. Bradley, Can teens really do it all?, http://www.nais.org/Magazines-Newsletters/ISMagazine/Pages/Can-
Multitasking thus has an effect on our short- and long-term memory. Karen Bradley writes:
“When we jump and skitter through the Internet, when we multitask in any way, we create at
best fragmented long-term memories — often just vague impressions — because working
memory is frequently being overloaded and overwritten. If we bombard our working memory
with information from a slew of disconnected sources, it is not able to connect them to one
another or to bases in long-term memory. Under too much pressure, new information never
becomes part of our long-term memory.”31
Levitin adds: “in order for something to become
encoded as a part of our experience, you need to have paid conscious attention to it”32
The “at best fragmented long-term memories” include autobiographical knowledge. This
knowledge, according to Martin Conway, “constraints what the self is, has been and can be”
. It is the basis for our identity narratives. And it is hindered and fragmented by
“Major tensions or transitions” in the form of “liquid life” and multitasking seem to have a
major effect on the formation of our identity narratives. The input to these narratives has
become “at best fragmented”, or is at times even absent. The identity narratives as a result
have become more fragile and less robust, especially for younger individuals, as was found in
tests that the authors conducted.
The effects of the “major tensions or transitions” seem likely causes of the remarkable
behavior in the classroom that was described above. Abstract thinking, critical thinking and
focusing for prolonged periods are a major challenge when little internal and external
cohesion is present, a reward mechanism is in place for being distracted, and higher levels of
cortisol and adrenaline are experienced. This, combined with lesser empathy, also seems to
cause more emotional and less rational discussions.
Since coherence of the self seems paramount to be able to function34
extremism might very
well function as an external compensation for internal and external fragmentation. This
extremism seems to be shielded by this fragmentation since it can hide away in echo
chambers and information bubbles and is not challenged by internal or external coherence.
D. Levitin, above cited, p. 7.
Quoted in: A. Ananthaswamy, The man who wasn’t there, New York 2015, p. 53.
Ananthaswamy A., The man who wasn’t there, New York 2015.
Bauman Z., Identity, Cambridge 2004.
Bauman Z., Liquid life, Cambridge 2005.
Bauman Z., Liquid times, Cambridge 2007.
Benartzi S., Why I don’t make financial decisions on my smartphone,
Bradley K., Can teens really do it all?, http://www.nais.org/Magazines-
Cole N., The psychology of BREXIT, http://www.conversion-uplift.co.uk/psychology-
Generation M2, http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/
Giddens A., Modernity and self-identity, Cambridge 1991.
Goffman E., The presentation of self in everyday life, New York 1959.
Goffman E., Frame analysis, an essay on the organization of experience, Boston
Hansen-Staszyński O., Staszyńska-Hansen B., E-LAB DT, Gdańsk 2015.
Hansen-Staszyński O., Waarom jongeren extremer reageren,,
Rik Kuiper, ‘Docent wordt structureel overbelast door schoolbestuur’,
Kurzban R., Why everyone (else) is a hypocrite, Princeton 2010.
Lapinski T., Dear Democrats, read this if you do not understand why Trump won,
Levitin D., The organized mind, New York 2014.
Rosen L., Facebook and texting made me do it,
The case against the media, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/07/case-
Weghorst A., Anders, Utrecht 2016.
Tożsamość, fragmentacja, młodież, Pokolenie F, narracja tożsamościowa, plynne czasy,
wielozadaniowość, Giddens, Bauman, Staszyńska-Hansen, Hansen-Staszyński
Identity, fragmentation, youngsters, Generation F, identity narrative, liquid times,
multitasking, Giddens, Bauman, Staszyńska-Hansen, Hansen-Staszyński
Autorzy u teraźniejszej młodzieży zaobserwowali nadzwyczajne zachowanie w trakcie lekcji
w klasie: krótkie okresy koncentracji, ekstremalne opinie oraz emocjonalną argumentację i
utrudnione abstrakcyjne myślenie. „Płynne” społeczeństwo w późnej nowoczesności i
wielozadaniowość uprawiana przez młodzież są prawdopodobnymi przyczynami tego
nadzwyczajnego zachowania, ponieważ powodują brak dostępności spójnych narracji i
spójnych narracji tożsamościowych. Autorzy odkryli, że tożsamości teraźniejszej młodzieży
są bardziej łamliwe i mniej odporne. Zjawisko to nazwali „Pokoleniem F”.
The authors observed current youngsters performing remarkable behavior in the classroom:
short concentration spans, extremist opinions and emotional argumentation, and challenged
abstract thinking. Late modern „liquid” society and youngster multitasking are likely causes
of this remarkable behavior as they lead to a lack of availability of cohesive narratives and
identity narratives. Current youngsters were found by the authors to possess more fragile and
less robust identities and were dubbed by them „Generation F”.