So, the battle with my inner social networker continues. The spouse forwarded an article to me last week about actor Bill Nye (The Science Guy) who collapsed while walking towards a podium to do a presentation at the University of Southern California. While Nye was ultimately okay, the article’s author was more concerned with the peculiar behavior of the USC audience. According to the article, rather than getting up to aid Nye, most of the students in attendance pulled out their smart phones and began to update their Twitter and Facebook statuses about the event. Similarly, the article reported another incident where New Orleans comedienne, Anthony Barre, was murdered in the streets and witnesses chronicled his death by updating their statuses and posting pictures of him dying in the streets.
I immediately got into a pretty preachy discussion with a few of my friends via Facebook that involved a great deal of “smdhs” and “wtfs”. I mostly felt overwhelmed by a generation who could be so emotionally and physically detached from their humanity. It felt so wrong and unnatural – and I wondered what kind of legacy a generation of passive onlookers could possibly leave. I stood on my figurative moral high ground and thought to myself, I could never do that. I would never do that.
Then after a quiet Thanksgiving at home with my family, my husband and I sat down to watch Public Speaking, an HBO documentary on essayist and author Fran Lebowitz (The McCray’s know how to party). Lebowitz, for those of you unfamiliar, is an author from my hometown, New York City, made famous during the Andy Warhol era for her hilarious social commentary. In the documentary, Lebowitz, now 60, discusses a myriad of issues including this generation’s apparent disconnection with life. She noted that she finds inspiration for her writing by traveling by foot everywhere in New York. She said that, “No matter where you are, if you are doing this-”. She paused and held her hands as though typing on an imaginary Blackberry. “You aren’t really there – no matter where you are.” She concluded.
It occurred to me that while I was “smh-ing” and “wtf-ing” about those onlookers at USC and in New Orleans, why wasn’t I allotting similar judgment to my own behavior when I pause to update my Facebook status at the dinner table? Or take a moment to respond to a BBM while coloring with my son? Or stop my husband from telling me about his day to finish responding to a text message? I started to wonder just how much time I had spent being barely present in my own life. A few years ago when my addiction to Facebook was just budding, I joked with one of my friends that I felt like I was beginning to think in status messages. This leaves me wondering, if I am privileged enough to grow old, just how will I reflect on the hours I spend allowing my mind to attend an imaginary party while the world goes on around me? And if I do decide to become an active member of the planet and limit (or eliminate) my social media outlets, just how lonely will the “real world” be? (Think Bruce Willis in “Surrogates”.)
As a parent, I often wonder that if I am so susceptible to social media outlets what will that mean for my sons’ generation. In January 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a study that 8-18 year olds spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). In a New York Times article discussing the study, one eighth grader reported that she felt her days would be boring without her social media outlets. In theory, what could be more boring that staring at a tiny screen most of your day and not engaging the world around you? While my own children are both under four years old, I often wonder how I will introduce these outlets to them… if at all. What do you think WOH? How do you manage your own time engaging in social media? How will you or have you regulated the time your children spend on the internet, smartphones, etc? Something tells me society had a very similar conversation about television at its onset as well.