Antisocial media

Fifty-six.

That’s the number of students I counted fixated on cell phones during lunch supervision yesterday.  That amounted to about a third of the kids in the room.  Many were ignoring their friends, sitting at tables together, yet playing games and tweeting/facebooking/Internet browsing alone.  It’s the one time all day when they can hang out and talk with their friends, but they choose to spend it disconnected from everyone.

It saddens me. It worries me.

What kind of adults are these teens going to become?  How will they hold down jobs when they can’t handle leaving their phones off or unchecked for even an hour?

My husband, a high school counselor, tells me how employers complain about  cell phone usage among teenagers.  They’re distracted constantly.  They ignore directives from the boss.  They’re putting themselves and others in danger (can you imagine working with heavy machinery while looking at your phone every five minutes?).

What about interpersonal relationships?  What are kids learning about that?  Going out to dinner  with your family, friends, or significant other and spending half the time looking up sports scores  or twitter feeds.  That’ll make for really scintillating conversation.   And I can’t see the success rate of marriages improving when kids are only learning how to be less and less engaged with actual, real-live human beings.

Why do we have this need to let everyone know what we are doing all the time, as well as to know what everyone else is doing?  More importantly, why are we avoiding true interaction with each other?  Can’t we be content with where we are, who we’re with, and what we’re doing at this very moment?

Yes, I check my Facebook account just about every day and I like seeing my friends’ pictures and hearing their news.  I’ve been blessed to reconnect with some, like my kindergarten best friend Catherine, whom I hadn’t seen in about ten years when we found each other on Facebook.  Now we’ve been able to keep in touch and even have visited the past two summers.  We’ve rejoiced together over each others’ weddings and the births of her daughter and my son.

That’s a rare occurrence with social media.  I feel guilty because the majority of time I spend on it is essentially wasted.  It is  superficial–most of my “friends” are  people I care about, but would probably feel awkward with if I saw them in person.  And of course, I usually share the most positive points of my day, not my screw-ups or frustrations, so I’m not being totally straightforward myself.

Ever watch the ABC sitcom “The Middle”?  There’s one past episode that comes to mind in which the middle-class mom becomes obsessed with her teenage daughter Sue’s Facebook profile.  She pushes and interferes in Sue’s sleepover, making her and her friends pose for tons of pictures and post them online, checking to see how many other people “liked” her status and photos.  All the girls wanted to do was hang out as friends, not worry about how many people were following their fun.

Having read someone’s status updates does not mean I know the person.  There is no substitution for sitting down face-to-face with another person and getting into a real conversation.

Social media gives people a false sense of belonging, of connection.  It removes us from our reality and teaches us to ignore the here and now.  By attempting to “share” all our moments with the world, we end up missing them.

Let’s set aside our phones and tablets and get real.  Let’s be our true selves and  discover what it is to really live.

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