If you’ve spent more than twenty minutes on the internet you’ve likely encountered a comic, meme, or video like this one.
The message is pervasive and simple: Social media and smart phones are overused (especially by millennials), and we’re worse off because of it. Whether it’s because we can’t engage in real meaningful conversation, or because technology is demanding too much of our attention, there’s always a fresh hot take out there explaining how social media, smartphones, and the like are changing society for the worse.
What’s typically lost on whomever is sharing this message is how trite their ideas are. Consider the following quote:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
That was said by none other than Socrates, the ancient Greek Philosopher who lived between 469–399 B.C. For as long as society has existed there have always been irrational criticisms of the youngest generation and its habits. The term for this is juvenoia, and Vsauce has a great video explaining it.
In the same vein as juvenoia, there is also technophobia. While the former is geared towards the made-up folly of the youth in society, technophobia is more about the fear of whatever the latest technology is. Regardless of the negative attitudes people have towards the youth per se, we often talk about how social media and smart phones are making the world more anti-social, and how they’re demanding too much of our lives.
In years past we feared TV was going to rot your brain. Even further back during the 19th-century people thought that reading novels was bad for you, and now the latest trend is about how our smart phones are destroying us. Consider this photo of the good old days before smart phones began to destroy the fabric of our society by making it anti-social:
While there is some research suggesting that smart phones and social media are having impacts on how people in society interact with each other, this research is still young and developing. Different studies on the subject suggest different things, and we need more time to better understand these issues. There is certainly is an intellectual, disciplined, and worthwhile discussion to be had on the impacts of smart phones and social media on our society, but it’s not the discussion most people are interested in having.
It is likely that all these stupid comics about the scourge of social media and smart phones will one day be tossed into the bin of embarrassing things that people used to believe. Like the theories before it of a hollow earth, or a woman’s inability to get pregnant if she had sex standing up, we might one day laugh at all this. However for the time being let those of us with a sense of history join together and support one another while our uncles on Facebook yell at us for being a millennial.