At dinner last night with my wife and our 14 year-old daughter, I noticed a circular table of four teenage girls eating alone. They were about the same age as my daughter, who wasn’t exactly thrilled to be stuck with her parents as company on her first weekend of the school year. As we ate, I paid attention to the group’s dynamics, imagining them to be a possible reflection of what my daughter would be doing once she started going out alone with friends in New York City.
The most striking characteristic of the group was how they used their phones. The default position for each of them – their resting state, if you will – was to hold their device at chin level while gazing into the blue grip of its screen. They looked away only to point out something happening on that screen – at no time during an hour or so of observation did any of them put their phones down to simply talk to one another.
I pointed this out to my daughter – I’m used to seeing kids on their phones, but this was a bit over the top. “Is that normal?” I asked her. “For sure,” she replied, looking over her shoulder at the clutch of zombified girls. “But,” I protested, “at some point they’ll put them down and just be human beings enjoying each other’s company, right?”
“Not really,” my daughter replied casually. “They’re Snapping,” she stated matter of factly, deducing the fact from the social and physical interactions particular to that app. “They’re adding their dinner to their stories.”
I ventured into old-person-yelling-from-the-porch territory. “But…they’re not going to do that the entire dinner, are they?”
“No,” she replied, “soon they’ll be taking photos of each other for Instagram.”
Within five minutes, that’s exactly what the girls were doing.
“Surely this can’t be a lasting behavior,” I rejoined. “Twenty years from now, we’re all going to look back at this era and realize what a bunch of idiots we were, right?”
My daughter looked at me, considered my statement, and without any apparent irony, agreed.
6 thoughts on “Social Media Too Shall Pass”
I was talking to my 16 year old son about this exact scenario with his friends. He was posting some game play to Instagram on his phone, and I said, “Hey, maybe there’s a market for Instagram for older people.” He replied, “There is, dad… it’s called Facebook.” Boom, he had me there.
White adult male struggles to empathize with teenage girls. After failing to bridge the gap, our hero declares the observed behavior ‘over the top’ before seeking affirmation teenage daughter and mutually agreeing that a return to a golden age is inevitable. More likely to die: technology trends or norms of the previous generation?
To be replace by a VR headset from which they won’t leave to go to dinner.
Whether or not the norms of the previous generation dies, the skills of conversation, of interpersonal interaction among people of differing classes, races, and cultures will still be–in this increasingly global, yet increasingly divided world– skills that become rarer and rarer. I don’t think Battelle’s comment is merely a nostalgic bid for old norms; rather, it highlights an exemplary atrophying of communication. Those who can bridge that gap and display the talent of conversation, the talent of reaching beyond the self-tailored narrative and bubble, beyond one’s own self-created “fictions”, might one day be in demand, if they are not already…. In other words, I don’t think it’s just about older generations vs the younger — it’s about the horizontal stratifications we all witness now — in class, race, culture, geography, privilege, etc.
I can just imagine one of those young women typing ‘Creepy old dude at next table keeps looking at us instead of talking to his fam. Gross!’
How do you know that they weren’t respectively supporting a pal through a breakup, organising to buy opera tickets, chatting with their terminally ill mum or co-ordinating a social good event? You imply that their activities were shallow, antisocial and narcissistic. What led you to assume that? Also, on the topic of assumptions, can you tell me how four people at a table in a café can be “eating alone” If three’s a crowd, how can four possibly be ‘alone’? Would you describe four young men at the same table as “eating alone”?
Our public discourse had been dominated by derogation of the young, fear of change and men’s gratuitous policing of women’s behaviour in public space for millennia. For your daughter’s sake, might you want to worry more about how we might change that than what someone else does with their current device of choice?
Besides my own experience with two daughters and their pals, I mainly relied on my daughter’s interpretation. Given the response to the pixels dancing across their screens, it’s pretty certain they weren’t doing much more than Snapchat.
And I’m very aware of creepy dad syndrome. They were directly over my daughter’s shoulder. I am not one to stare. Thanks for commenting.