There’s a lot of talk these days about how social media is ruining real-life human interaction. Kids and young adults are sitting at the dinner table staring at their phone instagramming their meal and snap-chatting their crush instead of having a “real” conversation like their parents claim was so important when they were kids.
Here’s the problem with that theory. We’ve always consumed media at our fingertips. Always. We’re just getting better at it and faster. Check out this photo from 1947.
Just because they aren’t on iPads or smartphones doesn’t mean that this lack of human engagement is any different. But instead of newspapers, we have endless information in our hands. In my opinion, this access to people, information and knowledge is only making our kids better at communication and making them smarter.
Now kids have the ability to test their minds against millions of other kids at games, learn anything they want from Wikipedia, and stay in touch with every single person they met at summer camp through Facebook. If your kid really wants to go outside and play football, he will go outside and play football. Technology never took that option off the table.
There is a Pew research that actually determined kids who text the most also socialize the most in person. I think this romanticized idea that social media and smartphones are declining important social skills in young people is a fantasy. There’s this great book out called, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, written by Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd. What she has found, over and over, is that teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”
In other words, as a teenager in the 80’s (or before), you could roam pretty freely as long as you were home by dark. But over the next three decades, the media began delivering a slew of horrifying but rare child-abduction stories, and parents shortened the leash on their kids. Municipalities crafted anti-loitering laws and curfews to keep young people from congregating alone. New neighborhoods had fewer public spaces. Crime rates plummeted, but moral panic soared. Meanwhile, increased competition to get into college meant parents began heavily scheduling their kids’ after-school lives.
The result, Boyd discovered, is that today’s teens have neither the time nor the freedom to hang out. So their avid migration to social media is a rational response to the situation. They’d rather socialize face-to-face, so long as it’s unstructured and away from grown-ups.
When I was in high school, AOL was the big fuss. I’d spend my entire evenings and weekends logged in via my screen name IM’ing my friends – and other classmates that I rarely ever talked to in school. The exception to that rule was Friday nights during football season. We’d all sign out of our dial-up AOL connection and flock to the football game. Did we ever watch the game? Nope. We hung out in the grassy section near the end zone talking and interacting face to face, never once knowing the score of the actual game – or even if we won for that matter. It’s too bad there weren’t football games every night because we all had a blast and preferred to take our interaction in person. But as Boyd says in her book, this was one of the very few scenarios we teenagers could find ourselves in that was in an unstructured context.
So next time you see a couple of young people at a restaurant texting or surfing the web instead of actually talking to each other, keep in mind that we’ve always yearned to consume information and increase our overall conversation. Technology hasn’t ruined that; it’s helped us do it better and faster. My wife tells me all of the time how impressed she is with all of my knowledge. She claims that I know at least something about everything. I didn’t learn all of this information from school. I learn and continue to learn because I have access to information 24/7/365. When I have a question or am curious about something, I look it up right then. And with access to an abundance of information at a much earlier age, I have no doubt that my kids will be 100x smarter than me by the time they are in middle school.
On the marketing side of things, it doesn’t matter if I have convinced you that people burying their faces into their iPhones is a good thing or not. The fact is: they are. So what are you doing to tell your story and bring their attention to your brand via the mobile web?