Kids these days

As the weather gets colder, we have fewer and fewer excuses to look away from our phones.

by Matthew Hoy

I had a class assignment this past week to go to a populated area where people interacted with their computers and cellphones, then observe those people and write a report on their behavior.

Apart from the fact that this is an inherently creepy assignment, I took great issue with the idea that there are designated places where people interact with their technology.

I was very tempteda to write “everywhere” as my location for the assignment.

Our computers have become part of our daily lives as students, as young adults and as Americans. They are with us constantly and demand an exceptional amount of our attention.

If you walk around campus at all, you are guaranteed to see hundreds of people glued to the screens of their phones.

This is, in my experience, pretty accurate regardless of where you are in Minneapolis.

Now during the warmer months, the library isn’t as full, the cafes aren’t as crammed and it is common for people to play around in the sun. The attachment is only really noticeable when you are, say, at dinner with six friends and all of them are on their phones. The freedoms of frisbee, football or Humans vs. Zombies allow for distractions from our devices.

But that’s the thing: Our devices ought to be the distractions. I don’t give a damn about what Jaden Smith had to say on Twitter. That “Blurred Lines” parody has 10 funny seconds altogether; please stop asking me to watch it. Candy Crush is not a real sport.

I know it’s curmudgeonly, but at this pace I won’t actually see another person — that is, a person who is not currently on a screen that I own — until April.

I don’t totally accept the common narratives of narcissism or our collective Attention Deficit Disorder as the cause of this. However, there are certainly elements of this narrative involved. Every time I see someone send a duckface Snapchat in the middle of a lecture, I want to climb over the seats in front of me, take their phone and throw it on the ground in the style of
Andy Samberg.

Watching people flit between Facebook, then Twitter, then Tumblr, then Reddit, then back to Facebook and then Buzzfeed definitely endorses the ADD Generation moniker.

But there’s an insecurity and a loneliness that doesn’t get enough credit for these behaviors. Everyone has, at some point, pretended to be texting so as not to be doing nothing or to avoid someone. The constant illusory companionship that comes from much of online interaction can remedy the very loneliness caused by our attachment to these devices. It becomes a sort of symbiosis, where we decreasingly interact face-to-face with other people and compensate by liking more of their photos.

It’s what makes people at a party care more about getting a good photo than actually enjoying the party. It has become more important to look like we’re having fun on Instagram than to actually have any fun. After all, there’s no social capital to be gained by going skydiving and not devoting a Facebook album to it.

In November I am due for a free phone upgrade, and many of my friends are more excited about it than I am. I am very seriously considering ditching smartphones altogether and moving back to a convenience-phone-only policy. It’s extremely tempting.

In our ever-approaching Arctic tundra, perhaps we can re-prioritize our face-to-face interactions and complain about the cold together.