Millennials and Technology: Are we more disconnected?

We love our phones. Whether it’s Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Tindr…you get the point. Alongside the many stereotypes we’ve been examining in this series, not the least of these is that Millennials are obsessed with our computers and cell phones to an obnoxious degree. I can’t say this is completely untrue. But I also can’t say this is a bad thing.

“Look Up” by Gary Turk is a poem turned viral video that explains why our reliance on technology is making us miss our life around us. “I have 422 friends, yet I’m lonely,” says Turk, “I talk to them every day, yet none of them really know me.” This video has hit over 50 million views, so it has clearly resonated with people on some level. After watching the entire video, though, I have to attribute this going viral because of its appeal to emotion. There is a love story thrown in, of course, and the entire plot is that if he hadn’t looked up from his phone to ask a cute girl for directions, he never would’ve gotten married, had children, or lived a beautiful life. But what about all of the people who would’ve never met if it wasn’t for websites like Match, or GlutenFreeSingles.com? Turk goes on to say that our sense of community, companionship and inclusion is all an illusion. That we only share our best bits but leave out all of the emotion. But this completely depends on who you are as a person. The struggle to be honest on social media, or the need to make your life look perfect, only reflects an internal struggle of being honest in your everyday life. If you’re fearful of being yourself online, chances are you’re fearful of being yourself in person, too. We seek gratification from many things when we are unsatisfied with our lives, social media is only one possible tool turned vice to numb us from ourselves. People can cherry pick and try to perfectly frame their lives, but fakeness has a way of exposing itself over time. Your online self is ultimately a reflection of your real-life self. Technology is only ever a reflection of who you are.

Since history likes to repeat itself, it’s only fair to contextualize these critiques against modern technology by looking backward for a moment. Plato argued against writing, he worried it would disconnect people from having meaningful, present conversations and face-to-face interactions. Erkki Huntamo pointed out that at the turn of the 19th century, people were infatuated and pre-occupied with their kaleidoscopes, giving them “kaleidoscope mania” and distracting them for their daily lives. The telephone had it critiques of making a man lazy by talking on landlines rather than walking to see their friends in person. Television was our main form of entertainment for a time, one that bordered addiction for some, and it was a one-way experience. Our connection to the outside world is always evolving, but the critiques against it seem to remain the same.
On a broader scale, the entire world is connected in a way we never could’ve imagined only twenty years ago. I’m able to keep in touch with people I met on a trip to Nepal roughly 3 years ago, a country 3,000 miles away from my home. It’s not as if we’re looking down at our phones doing nothing – we are constantly connected to events happening around the globe, to our friends and families, to like-minded individuals who would otherwise be strangers if it wasn’t for the Internet. Rather than the one-way experience that is television, our phones and computers allow a constant two-way connection with the entire world. Something like Twitter has connected activists, writers, and consultants instantly.

A team at the University of Florida wanted to study this further by surveying a group of 339 students about the intensity of their smartphone use. The average time spent on their phones was roughly two hours a day. Participants answered questions about their cell-phone use in relation to four categories: trust, political participation, organization participation, and network resources. The results found that heavy smartphone users were positively associated with all four categories, meaning they participated and were more connected to all of the above. So being glued to your phone does not automatically mean being socially disconnected. Quite the opposite. Another study found that those over 75 who used facebook were more likely to fight off dementia. Virtual reality is allowing them to travel around the world to see places they’d otherwise never see. The potential and possibilities for this technology are endless.

This also connects back to us being a very accepting generation. Because we are connected on such a broad scale and we each have this platform for self-expression, we are exposed to endless ideas and shown the wide variety of people, culture, and sub-cultures that exist around the world. We don’t have the same sense of disconnect or fear of “the other” It’s also allowed even the most fringed-person to connect with other like-minded individuals, giving them a sense of community and belonging. It’s allowed us to expand our horizons from our otherwise narrow daily lives. We have access to unlimited data like never before. Knowledge is power, because, before the internet, knowledge was only in the hands of the few. Now it’s become decentralized. We all have access to this information now.

It seems that, overall, technology actually enriches people’s lives by allowing them to include friends and family with intimate life events. It’s true that our attention is spread out to multiple facts at once. Our consciousness is fragmented. So we should remember to turn off our phones, reconnect ourselves to the present moment. Sit outside and breath. Eat dinner with friends or family and hear about their day. Concentrate when you’re driving. But don’t make it seem like we’re a socially inept, disconnected generation when it’s clear that we are the most connected we’ve ever been. Communication is simply evolving, not disappearing. People like to romanticize and reminisce about a pre-tech consumed world, but regardless of how you feel about our current connection with technology, the fact remains that it’s here and it’s here to stay. It will only progress and accelerate from here. How we use it from here is up to us.

What do you think about how technology is affecting our generation, and generations to come?

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