Yesterday I decided to go to Starbucks before class started-- ordinary enough. But while in line, the older man in front of me thought I might be interested in hearing his commentary on how many people around us were on their cell phones.
I kind of wanted to whip out my own phone just to spite him.
There has been a lot of talk lately about technology and "our generation." One of my teachers makes a point to preach about the distraction and destruction caused by technology and pop media ad nauseum at least once every class. A clip of the Conan O'Brien Show featuring comedian Louis CK's rant about smart phones has been making the rounds on Facebook. And then, yesterday, the old man. And I genuinely can't take any of these criticisms seriously because of the strong, ever-present undertone of,"Ugh, millennials."
It's not a new sentiment, but it does seem to be intensifying. In May, Time Magazine put out a story on the "Me Me Me Generation," condemning Generation X as lazy, self-entitled narcissists before wheeling back around and asserting that these aren't bad things, necessarily ("even if that means they spend too much time on their phones"). It's a topic that deserves its own blog post, so for now I will leave it with a response to the Time article by Tumblr user gyzym, which succinctly and eloquently sums up the problems I and many others have with typical critiques of millennials.
It is entirely possible that I'm biased-- after all, I do enjoy pop culture and I am a student blogger. But while there is some valid insight in criticisms of new technology, I'm hesitant to claim that social media and smart phones have brought about the absolute end of interpersonal interaction. I'm even more hesitant to label the media and technology as the root cause of our modern society's social problems, as my teacher believes. If anything, the media is a reflection, amplification, and reinforcement of our society's values-- most of our societal issues today have been issues even before the Internet. And while the Internet can certainly be manipulated by corporations, or the media, or whoever to create new messages and subsequent problems, it also presents a means of subverting those messages. For instance, last week I read an academic article on how the Internet was instrumental in helping the anti-sweatshop movement of the 90's to come to fruition because it allowed for international solidarity, formed cohesive individual protests, and provided a wealth of information on how to successfully boycott guilty companies to would-be activists. At the same time, it allowed the companies being protested, such as Nike, to aggressively advertise their product in new and influential ways.
This, I think, is the bottom line: information has never been easier to access. The nature of this information, whether it is accurate or "useful" in a broader sense or not, or whether it's even being utilized is another story-- but this is nothing new. The only thing new is the means of which the information is being sent, and in this age, that often means smart phones, TV, social media, Internet. And change is scary, sure, especially change of the magnitude the Technological Revolution has brought about. But it is so easy to pin the blame of seemingly new societal problems on millennials, who consume this new technology the most, or the technology itself without examining the cultural context it exists within. While it's true that people were recently arrested for brawling in line to get the new iPhone, this seems to me to be a symptom of a larger problem present in our society (rampant consumerism, normalization of violence, etc.)-- not the problem itself. And in my own experience, I have seen technology give a voice to those who do not usually have one in our society and help spread information that subverts harmful cultural messages many of us have internalized. I hardly think this signals the end of society as we know it.
As for the old man in the Starbucks line, he took out his own phone before I had a chance to take out mine. He thought I would also be interested in seeing pictures of his dog.
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.