Generation Isolation: How Tech Advances Have Ruined Our Social Skills
For the majority of my adolescent life and the bulk of my teen life, my routine was set in stone.
After school, during which I wouldn't talk to anyone, I'd go home, lock myself in my room and go on my computer.
There, I would either play computer games alone, or when I was older, chat with people I had met on the Internet.
Or, I'd read. This was my life for the greater part of 12 years.
If it sounds like I didn't really talk to anyone during my teen years, it's because it's true.
Looking back, I realized my childhood and teenage years were horrifyingly isolated compared to others, but back then, I was content.
Though I did want to be friends with kids from school, it just didn't happen. I was me, and they were them.
And, though I didn't realize it at the time, I was part of a growing trend.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we, as Millennials, are the first generation that had the Internet shape the way we interacted with other people.
Our generation saw the beginnings of chat through AIM. Our generation was the first experienced Facebook, Tinder, Snapchat and everything else.
To say it didn't affect the way we behaved is just plain crazy. We also are one of the most socially awkward generations in history, and it is hurting us.
From what I've seen, however, the very technology that makes it easy to connect to one another also makes it easier than ever before to isolate oneself from the bulk of society.
This, in turn, makes it harder for us to learn the social skills we need in order to function among other people. And it's hurting a large portion of our generation.
While I did eventually break out of my shell and become a social butterfly, I've seen enough of both sides of technology to realize it often pushes us further apart than we'd like to admit.
Speaking as someone who's been on both sides of the fence, here are the things I've noticed:
Online interaction doesn't teach us people skills.
When I look at past generations, even Gen-X, I noticed people are able to pick up subtle cues often missed by Millennials.
I see people who are able to handle rejection, negotiate properly and remain polite while doing so.
They have actually interacted with people on a regular basis, face-to-face, and it shows.
I hate to admit it, but face-to-face interaction is one of those things that takes practice in order to perfect.
When I was a shut-in who only talked to people online, I had no idea how to actually talk to people face-to-face.
During my worst years in high school, I'd do anything from freakish antics to attention-seeking behavior and lashing out in anger because I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong.
No one told me what I did wrong. By that time, I was expected to know how to behave, but I didn't.
All I really knew about social success was what I'd learned about online, and that really didn't cut the mustard.
Judging by nice guy syndrome, the many epic fail posts you see on social media, as well as all the myriad of socially awkward teens and adults running around, I wasn't alone in this respect.
We often stalk instead of talk.
Let's be honest here: Social media makes it easy (and tempting) to find out what people are up to, even if they don't want to tell you what they're doing or whom they're with. I don't know of a single person who isn't guilty of looking up an ex on Facebook.
Back in the day, you either had to find out what happened to a person through the grapevine, or you had to reach out to him or her.
This made keeping tabs on people relatively difficult and tedious to do, which dissuaded us from being creepy.
Now, it's all too easy to creep on a person's social media accounts, which creates a whole other set of problems.
Our views of other people's lives are warped.
There are two ways to view people's lives: the realistic way and the way they portray themselves on social media. For a long time in high school, I honestly thought everyone knew everyone he or she befriended on Myspace and Facebook.
I was that kid who drank the Kool-Aid and believed people's lives were as cool and as glamorous as they were portrayed on social media.
Even if we don't want to believe what we see online, and even if we know better, it still affects the way we see people as well as ourselves.
Studies have shown people who spend a lot of time on social media tend to be more anxious about their social standings, more depressed and more lonely.
Nobody's life is perfectly beautiful, but that's how it often looks online.
Our generation often forgets the reality that most people have their own drama and struggles.
So, many people my age compete to see who has the best Facebook “life,” or they beat themselves up for not having perfectly Pinterest-ready lives.
Online groups make extreme behaviors acceptable.
If you're a true denizen of the Internet, you've probably run into circles that condone or even promote ideals, behaviors and concepts most people find absolutely disgusting.
The reason these online groups and forums exist is because of the natural law that like attracts like.
When you have billions of people perusing the Net, you'll end up with substantial groups filled with people who would normally be considered “that one town weirdo.”
For people who have friends outside of their computers, special interest online groups may offer support and camaraderie for some of the more unique aspects of their lives, hobbies and personalities.
For those who rely on their computers to find friends, they may believe the behaviors others view as strange or extreme to be completely normal.
This causes them to accidentally alienate themselves from the others around them by behaving in ways they think are normal, but really aren't acceptable.
It's all very scary…
When you're constantly using tech as a crutch to bolster your social life, going without it for even an hour can be pretty terrifying.
I believe people compulsively check their phones because they don't know how to deal with lulls in conversations.
I've met so many people who are afraid to talk to others or attend parties just because they are terrified of rejection.
When you can chat with people online and share stuff with groups you meet on the Internet, many of those things that freak us out about socializing fade into the background.
It's hard to be intimidated when the person you're talking to is behind a computer screen.
Keeping things relegated to the online realm, while less intimidating, isn't healthy.
Tech doesn't have to be the enemy.
Millennials are the first generation that had to mature while differentiating the online world with the real world, and it's hard.
Our views on what's socially acceptable tend to get warped by what we see online, we often can't gauge the reality of other people's lives, and it's too easy to just download something or “friend” someone in order to put yet another Band-Aid on a void we may have.
If we are really honest with ourselves, the increasing involvement of technology in our social lives just isn't healthy. We need to talk to each other face-to-face.
We need to experience the fun and magic of having people hang out with us.
Without those experiences, our generation will be marked by a melancholic isolation that's already affected too many of us to count.
This is why we should limit the amount of time we spend on social media and avoid being glued to our phones.
I'm not suggesting we give up social media completely. The truth is tech can bring us together, if we use it correctly.
Social media is great for scheduling meetups with friends or people with similar interests.
It's great for finding events that pique our interests. And, it does make a pretty good place to upload photos that mean a lot to us.
If we really use it as a means to connect to one another and foster relationships that actually involve hanging out in the real world, then maybe, just maybe, we can save ourselves from being the Isolation Generation.
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