In high school I used to believe I was the loneliest teenager to ever cross this planet, but the truth is that my generation is the loneliest yet. Honestly, and as this Guardian piece puts it, there’s an epidemic of teenage loneliness not only in America, but around the globe. And it’s so fascinating to me. Sometimes I watch movies and observe how the young adults portrayed are meeting up at diners or drive-in movies, always doing something, always together and comradely. It was something in which I thought every teenager but me participated—but I was wrong, so wrong. In college, speaking to others, I realized we all had that same characteristic: We’d spend our weekends of high school in our bedrooms alone, prowling Twitter and Facebook and waiting desperately for a text or a call that’d never come. That Guardian article surveys that over 60 percent of teenagers feel lonely, and I and nearly everyone my age I’ve encountered are a part of that statistic.
Of course baby boomers and traditionalists love to claim that it’s all social media and the internet that have driven us to depression, anxiety, and overall social ineptitude. We don’t go outside enough, they say. We don’t interact with others, we don’t detach from our phones. I wonder if they ever grow tired of their droning, adultist whining, or if we must do that for them. Because I also wonder why it’s the young people who are blamed for adapting to a culture fostered by those older than us? We can only do what’s best with what’s given to us, and the generations prior to us didn’t give us much.
Recently I read a New York Times opinion piece titled “Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good” and I can’t stop mulling over it. In it, writer Nellie Bowles theorizes that it’s the wealthy elites who have done it to us: They’ve created a culture where it is impossible for the poor to live without technology, and a luxury for the rich to live without it. “Life for anyone but the very rich — the physical experience of learning, living and dying,” she writes, “is increasingly mediated by screens.” How obvious this is and how little did I pay attention to it. First, “smart” technology—iPhones, iPads, Androids, and so on—was introduced almost as a symbol of status; the rich could go about tapping all day on their screens while the poor were left with flip phones and internet cafés.
But then smart technology became so commonplace where it became impossible to function in society without it. Laptops are now used in schools, workplaces regularly use apps to communicate, and messages and mail have become virtually digitized. If the poor dare to even fantasize of climbing the economic ladder, then they must need an iPhone. And while the poor struggle to afford the latest version, the rich purchase their kids the finest toys and send them off to the most prestigious charter schools and daycares. I can’t help but conceive of it all as some conspiracy, another way for the rich to shun the poor and cast them off from the world.
The whole concept of human contact in the modern age has become corporatized. It’s a scene your grandmother loves to share on her Facebook timeline: an image of a family dinner—except the parents are on their phones and the children are glued to video game consoles. But you can’t help but fathom that this is what happens when we’re driven to it. The notion of a 9–5 workday has now transformed into 24-hour shifts with email and Slack and employees’ contacts a fingertip away. Kids are products of the system they’re involuntarily a part of. People work two, sometimes three or four jobs, and now that divorce isn’t as stigmatized and women have the possibility to leave their neglectful husbands, separation is widespread. Families are not nuclear; in fact, they’re displaced. What used to be a model formed around religious ideals of community and mutual appreciation is now no different than the businesses and corporations—which are, unquestionably, manifestations of the male hegemony—that already dictate our lives.
Think about it: The workplace and the home have become increasingly integrated. Women now have to bear the domestic labors of the household and family with the demands of the boss and employer. Families are isolated in single-parent households, and how can one be expected to play the role of both parent and worker interchangeably and constantly? We can’t afford daycares, or nannies, or babysitters, but we also can’t afford to miss that night shift of our second job. Our children expect “quality time,” but there is no time left in the day. So our only quality time is on our phones. We declare that the youth have been tainted by technology. No. Corporations and big business have done that for us, inserting themselves into our culture and ruining the core values we cherish most.