It's no secret that smart phones and social media have changed the world. People are more connected than ever thanks to Facebook and Twitter. With smartphones feeding us instant notifications, we are always connected, no matter where we are. But despite this increased ability to "connect," person-to-person interaction has suffered tremendously, almost to the point of social ineptness. And generation Y are the worst offenders, by far.
On Thursday, June 19th, Facebook went down for about half an hour. Worldwide, users were unable to access their accounts for an incredibly short but apparently catastrophic length of time. During this half-hour, disgruntled Facebook users took to Twitter to rant and rave. Instead of taking a thirty-minute break from social media, many thousands of people instead jumped to another URL, to an alternate social media network, to complain about how bad it is to be without social media. Can't this generation take a break from their screens?
You have to wonder: when Facebook is down, why not spend some time in the real world with another human being? The possibilities for conversation are limitless, and humans have been speaking with each other (not virtually, but in real life!) for hundreds of thousands of years. Even if all you have to talk about is Facebook and Twitter, do that -- at least you would actually have a face-to-face conversation with someone in your proximity, instead of typing 140 character messages to people you don't know. Generation Y is increasingly handicapped for their preference for living online, and they're losing touch with what it's really like to do things people have always done: make friends, date, and even work.
For instance, phone calls have become taboo. Despite the universal proliferation of iOS and Android, Generation Y (and younger) have grown up in an age where the phone is the least important application of a phone. It's been replaced by text: the number of text messages sent monthly in the U.S. exploded from 14 billion in 2000 to 188 billion in 2010. As a result, a whole generation is rapidly losing the social grace necessary to conduct calls. Their reasoning makes sense, at least to them - why talk on the phone when it's so easy to text/email/Hangout/Snapchat/Facebook Message or, the worst offender yet, Yo?
As if social media and smart phones themselves are not already turning us into anti-socialites, now there are even apps specifically designed to help us avoid people. Apps like Split and Cloak mine location data from social media to create a kind of map of the people you wish to elude. Split draws information from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare to chart the whereabouts of the people you place on your avoid list, while Cloak pulls in geo-data from Instagram and Foursquare. With Cloak, whenever someone you want to avoid checks in on Foursquare, the person's location appears on a map within the app so that you're aware of the person's whereabouts and can steer clear.
Apps like Split and Cloak claim to be just a means of avoiding unwanted run-ins with certain people. But perhaps, in reality, these apps are a reflection of our current social ineptitude. How is it that generations before us were able to survive without actively trying to control who they ran into? Sure, it was probably awkward running into an ex-girlfriend while out on a date. But was it so difficult that you had to slip a tracking device into her purse to avoid running into her ever again? I certainly hope not! But considering Cloak was downloaded 300,000 times within its first three weeks of launch, one might think that these app developers have stumbled upon a gold mine, a generation of socially awkward penguins.
I've said before that in the non-digital age people had no choice, that they were forced to develop social skills and grace through actual trial and error. Unfortunately, many in Generation Y seem to be missing out on basic life experiences through deliberate and blatant avoidance.
Imagine never learning how to manually do long division simply because you had a calculator. You'd be able to get the answers right, as long as you had your handheld device, but you'd always be lacking one of the fundamental skills of mathematics. It's the same with socialization. There are fundamental social skills that can only be learned through direct interaction with people - through conversation and in-person meetings, not through social media, email or texting. Creating tools to try and avoid that is like a teacher skipping over long division by just handing each student a calculator.
These apps seem to be just another indication of the societal shift of avoiding personal interaction as much as possible. Everywhere you look, whether it's in an elevator or driving on the road, people are on their smartphones checking social media, sending emails, texting or playing games. A person's phone is their immediate defense mechanism in any awkward or prolonged situation. At work, interacting with computers (and robots, if Amazon and Google have anything to do with it) has replaced interacting with people.
In short, humans are losing their humanity to the cloud, and there's no cure on the horizon. To solve this generational crisis, I beg you developers:
Can someone please make an app for that?