Disconnected, Together: A Millennial (and Non-Millennial) Crisis
This has happened too many times: I go out to eat with friends (including the 50+ crowd) and after taking a bite of pasta, I look up to notice just about everyone at the table on their phones checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Grindr, Growlr, Scruff. Even playing video games. I think: maybe I should check my phone, too. I wouldn’t want to feel out of place. Then I think: hell no.
Either we remain disconnected, together. Or we put away our phones and talk like grownups.
I hear a lot of folks complaining about what will become of these tech-addicted youngsters, but isn’t this happening to everyone? Have we forgotten our basic social skills? Our ability to connect? How do we end this alarming trend of digital isolation?
Easier said than done. I am a millennial. I am currently working, attending school, and caring for an older relative. I’m so busy! How can I find time to actually talk to people face-to-face?
In a TED talk, psychologist Susan Pinker mentions an island in Italy with ten times as many centenarians as North America. What is their secret to longevity? Not just diet and exercise, but strong personal connections, face-to-face interaction, conversation. After watching the video, I realized that remaining socially disconnected presents serious health risks.
After doing some research and talking to a professor, I found some simple ways to put away the smart phone, break the ice, and reconnect with the human race:
Talking to people who are different. Left, right, straight, queer, theist, atheist, pagan. It doesn’t matter. Reaching out in a friendly way can help us better understand others and ourselves. We’re not so different, after all.
Active listening. How often do you pretend to listen to a friend while actually thinking of what you will say next? Guilty! Active listening is the practice of being fully present and playing close attention to what someone is saying. Sometimes all people want is someone who will listen.
Attending a social event, something you’ve never tried before. Tai Chi classes at CAMP Rehoboth, weekly “free writes” with The Rehoboth Writers Guild, continuing education classes at Del Tech Owens, free lectures and classes at Lewes Library, chess clubs, outdoors clubs, volunteer organizations. The options are endless.
Quality over quantity. The quality of friendships is much more than important the number of friends. I have found that maintaining a handful of close friendships is more valuable than a sea of mere acquaintances. Small talk gets boring. The best evenings I’ve had were not spent at loud dance parties, but with a small group of friends having meaningful conversation.
Inviting a friend to go on a walk. We have many lovely trails in the area: Cape Henlopen, Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge, Redden Forest. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from obligations, leave the phones behind, and just walk. As Hippocrates wrote, “walking is the best medicine.”
The truth is, life can get very busy, even at the beach. In this age, it would not be practical to completely unplug everything and live like mountain hermits. But simply being more mindful of our social and technological habits may help us know when to connect (socially) and disconnect (technologically). The answer may be as simple as an old-fashioned phone call to a pal or co-worker: “let’s grab a coffee. I want to hear all about you.”▼
James Adams Smith works as an English tutor at Delaware Technical & Community College and is studying to become an occupational therapist.