Millennials spend a ton of time looking at screens; this has been reported to death. Over 85 percent of the people classified as Millennial are smartphone owners, according to data from a Nielsen survey.
We already know the opinion of our parents’ generation on this. They think we suck. But once you fight past the tendency to totally disagree with everything they say, think about this: they might be onto something.
Your phone has probably saved your ass more times than you can count. Not only can you call a tow truck when your car breaks down, you can use Google to find the best place nearby (or you could use Bing, if you’re really into that). You can check the weather forecast for the afternoon. You can fact-check your friend’s drunken rants mid-sip.
But my goodness, at what cost?
Your phone is a condensed and slightly-less-capable version of the laptop you probably also own. Now, to be sure, I’m all about laptops; from a writer’s perspective it’s invaluable to have both word-processing capabilities and the Internet at your fingertips. You can type a short story and then immediately compare it to a Pulitzer-winning piece and cry into your hands, instead of having to first walk to the library and sob amongst the bookshelves.
It’s annoying to look around the coffee shop and see faces awash in screen glow, but would I have tried talking to any of those people regardless? No. No, I wouldn’t have. I sit on my own laptop and instead of having meaningful conversations I settle for meaningful Facebook comments.
Some of this tech obsession is good, of course. What is the mass of one carbon atom? How many parking tickets can I get before I’m arrested? Google knows. My brain space can be reserved for song lyrics and cocktail recipes.
But here’s the thing: the technology in my life, and in others’ lives as well, ruins things. It ruins experiences, relationships, singular moments and entire chunks of each day. We scroll Twitter or Tumblr when we should be taking notes in lecture. We walk through the halls and down the sidewalks with headphones in, jamming to our favorite Spotify or (gag) Pandora radio stations. No “ah-ha” moments in class. No high-fives when we pass our friends. We’re too absorbed, too busy, too entertained. We hold up our phones to capture video at concerts and miss dancing to our favorite songs.
There are actually applications to address some of this. One of my personal favorites, 1-Hour Photo ($0.99 in the iTunes app store), takes high-contrast black and white photos and makes the user wait an hour before viewing them. The idea of the app is that once you snap a photo, typically you would want to review it, edit or delete, and maybe share it, all while the thing you photographed is still happening. You could miss something important.
So with this app, you’re forced to take the shot and then put your phone away. Another added bonus: the front-facing camera is disabled within the app. No artsy selfies for you.
Our boosted connectivity is also making us the flakiest generation of people to ever exist. Aziz Ansari’s latest comedy special, Live at Madison Square Garden, addresses this point in a sharp and hilarious fashion.
When it comes to dating and relationships, he talks about etiquette in terms of what to do when you don’t actually like someone that much. There’s such a communication breakdown: do you tell them straight-up that you don’t like them? Do you ignore them? The vast majority of the audience seemed to agree with the “ignore” method.
Meanwhile, the one who’s in the dark about the situation is on his or her phone constantly, refreshing Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr and Snapchat to see if this person, this soul-sucking person, will give a clue as to why they aren’t texting back.
There’s no relief, no closure, just the dawning realization that life is garbage and there are no more nice people.
At which point, maybe a phone gets used for that which is designed and the “Mom and Dad” contact is dialed. It always seems to come back to that.