If you’re a Millennial, or part of Generation C, or whatever label is trending these days, I’m sure you’ve had this thought before: “But how did people function before cell phones?”
You’re supposed to meet someone, but they’re running late. Or there was a miscommunication and they showed up at a different coffee shop than you did. Now what?
People must have spent a lot of time waiting around back in the day, and that waiting was spent without a smartphone that offered instant access to news, music and entertainment.
What did people do? Read something that wasn’t presented to them on a screen? Think? Talk to the person waiting beside them?
If someone from 1983 was suddenly transported to 2013, Back to the Future style, and found themselves fully immersed in modern technology and social media, here are a few observations they might make:
1. Maintaining relationships is easier
Long-term relationships, both romantic relationships and friendships, can benefit from the ease of communication afforded by social media and modern technology. Skype, Facebook, cell phones: all are resources that make it possible to continue relationships that thirty years ago might have fizzled out due to distance. I have close friends in South Africa and in the United Kingdom, and while it might have been fun to write them letters if that was our only option, it’s easier and cheaper to send Facebook messages and catch up via Skype.
2. Personal contact can be underutilized and undervalued
On the flip side, social media is widely used to keep in touch even when it doesn’t need to be, which can devalue in-person interactions. Texting and emailing require less effort than a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Many use the sense of anonymity created as a license to be rude via text or email, because it’s easy to forget that there’s a real person on the receiving end of that message.
3. Meeting and connecting with people is easier
The Internet and its many resources provide innumerable ways to connect with people, whether you’re looking to find a relationship or a new job. LinkedIn is a great example of this: the potential for networking exploded once business connections weren’t limited to the people whose cards you kept in your wallet.
4. Privacy is hard to come by
You’re expected to display your life’s story, your interests, who your friends are and what you do with them on social media sites for all to see and evaluate. You’re also supposed to keep up with your friends’ lives via these sites, though this can easily turn into a time drain. It’s fairly safe to assume that if there’s anything important regarding one of your close friends, he or she will tell you in person.
5. Bragging is encouraged
If you went somewhere cool or did something interesting, you’re expected to document it. If you don’t, never fear, someone will do it for you. A social media profile is a carefully-cultivated illusion, one in which you present only the parts of yourself you want others to see. It’s easy to become envious of the houses, vacations, etc. that friends are posting pictures of. This inclination to be judgmental and/or jealous can be especially dangerous when looking at pictures of an ex.
6. Planning events is easier
The Internet provides valuable tools for planning events and paradoxically, can make it easier to people to actually spend time with one another in person. Facebook events, email chains, and apps that allow you to share plans and organize activities with friends lend an ease to event planning that didn’t exist previously.
7. There’s pressure to always be plugged in
I’m constantly checking and often answering emails from my iPhone, work-related and otherwise. I don’t want to miss anything, from a business email to a social invitation to an emergency (the only truly urgent message I would receive, and the most unlikely). Occasionally I’ll check my email in the middle of the night if I wake up and can’t get back to sleep, which I realize is extremely detrimental to the quality of that night’s sleep.
Four years ago, I spent the summer working as a camp counselor in the Sequoia Forest. We were 7000 feet up on a mountain, with no cell phone service. There were two landlines, two TVs and two desktop computers in the whole camp, and the Internet was unreliable at best.
Being so unconnected was occasionally frustrating, but much more often, it was liberating. I think unplugging, even just for an afternoon, is something we all need to try to do. Checking your email and answering your texts can wait an hour or two.
By Kathleen Toohill