It seems immensely frustrating for older generations that young people sit together, but all play on their phones. Are We growing more individualistic or has it always been the same?
“I remember visiting a friend’s home during university. We were listening to Metallica and his mother was complaining that it wasn’t “real music.” My friend responded that when he grew up, he wouldn’t be like his parents, but would let his kids listen to whatever they wanted. I then asked him if he’d let them listen to rap music, which I knew he hated, and without thinking he said, “Oh, that’s not music!”
I’m sure that the vast majority of our readers have had similar experiences and sentiments; yet, perhaps nothing is more illustrative of this than the comments about how the Internet, phones, social media and texting are destroying our social interactions.
“Today, people go to a restaurant and sit around texting on their phones, not talking to each other.” Or maybe: “Many of today’s children don’t have even basic social skills to make friends or interact in real life.” Another: “The use of emojis and abbreviations among the younger generation is destroying the English language.”
Getting a grip
I love history. Particularly because it reminds me that all these new “problems” we’re facing today are really just recycled versions of what’s already happened in the past.
For example, here is an illustration (above) of Stanley Kubrick’s famous photograph from a 1947 newspaper editorial that was written to bemoan the popularity of newspapers supposedly destroying social interaction. Look at that picture—everyone is fully wrapped up in their paper, completely ignoring each other.
When the radio became popular, there were again complaints that instead of going out and talking with each other, people were simply staying at home and listening to the radio. This new machine was destroying social interaction and would result in a society of loners and introverts.
Sharing pictures of whatever food I ate for lunch? I don’t personally see much value in it and I have no real desire to do it.
Then there was the TV. I personally remember many describing the terrible effects of “the idiot box,” while they explained how it would destroy families, as members would no longer talk with each other, instead preferring to sit around watching a metal box.
Now, we have the internet, social media and texting, and we hear the same chorus being repeated all over again by people who don’t seem to recognize just how repetitive and outworn their complaints have become.
Now, I am the first to admit that I personally don’t see the attraction of some of this stuff. Making posts on Facebook to transmit every boring detail of my life? Sharing pictures of whatever food I ate for lunch? I don’t personally see much value in it and I have no real desire to do it.
But then, I have no real desire to listen to Peking Opera or to discuss (or even understand) the sport of cricket. I’m not so arrogant as to think that my personal lack of interest or understanding in something means that those things should have no interest or value to others.
Sure, there are apparent issues and dangers with modern technology. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs placed significant limitations on their children’s access to technology. They were cautious about their children’s exposure and controlled it in a manner that allowed them to learn how to use it responsibly.
For what it’s worth
But there’s another side to this that all the pundits seem to miss: many of today’s generation of children are actually more interconnected and social than any of us ever were. When I was growing up in a small town, the number of people that I interacted with was quite limited. For the most part, these people looked and thought the same as me and had similar experiences and perspectives.
Today’s youth are growing up interacting with people from all over the world. They are our first truly global citizens. Odds are that in many of those online games, they’re chatting with people from all over the world. And their daily social media updates are also being read by people from all over who, for whatever reason, not only find it interesting to see what they ate for lunch, but also take the time to comment.
Social interaction isn’t disappearing, it is simply evolving. Though, it seems strange or different to you, doesn’t mean that it is therefore wrong.
So, those kids at the restaurant, texting on their phones and apparently ignoring each other? You might only see them acting in apparent self-inflicted isolation, failing to interact with each other. In actuality, those sitting together are often not only reading what they’re writing, but really interacting with a great many more people that you can’t see.