“Those goddamn millennials” seems to be every adult’s favorite buzzword (and by adult, I mean a real adult, not us crazy college kids). We’re the excessively PC, reality-TV-obsessed, ill-informed, self-obsessed and, most of all, smartphone–addicted generation.
“It’s sort of sad,” remarked one of my teachers during a break in class once, “how we all pull out our phones instead of talking to each other.”
“Our generation sucks at small talk,” noted another student — and, ironically, launched a brief conversation that distracted us from the glinting allure of our iPhones.
But is our generation really losing social abilities because of a reliance on our cell phones? There’s an argument to be made that people are sensationalizing this whole “smartphone addiction” problem. If our cell phones are killing our small talk ability, thousands of apps have led to new conversations with people you’d never imagine meeting.
For example: Uber. If you search online, you find hundreds of articles about “Uber drivers who made things incredibly awkward” or “weird passenger stories.” Once, I took an Uber home from a restaurant and my driver told me her entire life story:
[My two friends and I are sitting in the back of a red Toyota driven by a friendly lady in the front. She’s already driven in the wrong direction for five minutes, accidentally ended the ride before it even started and made me re-add her a second time before (of course) getting lost a second time. We’re all very amused.]
Driver: I have six kids, you know.
Me: Oh, how sweet!
Driver: Yeah, I didn’t understand how I kept getting pregnant.
Me: Well. [My friends and I stare at each other and stifle laughter.]
Driver: I mean, my friends were like, obviously there’s a reason, honey, but I was like, hey, I’m on birth control!
[All of us visibly laugh now, our eyes wide.]
Driver: Yeah, so I went to the doctor, and turns out it was the aspirin I was on or something was, like, canceling out the pill? And my friends were like, honey, you should sue, and my husband and I were going to, you know?
Driver: But then I just stared at all my little bundles of joy and I’m just not angry anymore! Who could be mad about having those cuties?
Best. Uber. Ever.
That conversation would have never happened 10 years ago, because Uber didn’t exist. We would have just biked there instead, probably, and missed out on having this crazy conversation (it went into much more detail, including the pros and cons of living in Hawaii and how toddlers go crazy on sugar) with a hilarious and interesting individual. Yes, in big cities there have always been taxi companies, but as a native New Yorker, I can tell you that most taxi drivers aren’t all that friendly.
Uber is only one example of an app that isn’t limiting our social interactions but extending them. Referencing social media is an old trope, and obviously online interactions can never supplement actual physical conversations. But with over one million apps in the Apple Store, there are literally thousands of new ways for us to interact.
Apps like FaceTime let me talk to my sister and parents face-to-face when they’re on the other side of the country; apps like Uber let me meet people I would never interact with otherwise; Snapchat lets me keep in touch with friends about a thousand times better than my parents’ generation, who literally had to write letters to stay in touch. I know — snail mail. Archaic, right?!
Yes, social media is probably killing our face-to-face social interactions. I’m not going to argue that — I say that all the time! But iPhone apps are also helping connect people across far distances or to people in interesting situations. So next time you launch into a diatribe about the evils of social media, just remember: It isn’t all bad.
Contact Caroline Dunn at cwdunn98 ‘at’ stanford.edu.