A remarkable statistic caught my eye recently, showing fewer teens are rushing to get their driver’s licenses today versus thirty years ago. They simply are not in a hurry to get behind the wheel, a rite of passage that symbolized freedom and independence for previous generations. Probing deeper into this phenomenon, the reporter discovered teens valued their computers and smartphones more than a car. In fact, if they had to choose one or the other, most opted for a new iPhone versus cool wheels.
If you were born in the 20th century, you probably share my disbelief at this report. We all remember our first sweet ride because it was our passport to independence and emergence into adulthood. Our first car allowed us to go where we want, do what we want, see whom we want and, essentially, be whom we want. Our car was our ticket to freedom – the world was our oyster as we were now able to hit the mall, go to the movies or just meet up and hang out with friends.
But a cultural shift was slowly underway while we were asleep at the wheel: the internet. Technology keeps teens connected to one another and all the hip stuff without ever getting into a car. Music, movies, clothes, books – all are at their fingertips with a simple mouse click or smartphone swipe. And if I really need to explain the incredible impact of social media, you haven’t been paying attention because Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat consume the teen’s life 24/7. Texting drives their social life; the information highway has replaced our paved highway. In fact, broadening the demographic to millennials (ages 18 to 34), nearly 75% would rather shop online than in stores according to a survey by Zipcar. Given the choice of losing their phone, computer or car, 65% would go without their car.
This phenomenon both fascinates and frightens me. It validates my belief in the human need to bond; we are social creatures and have an instinctive desire to connect which gives our lives meaning and purpose. Human connection is our ability to empathize, belong, love and feel a part of our community. The hyper-explosion in social media and all its technology tools confirms this. Loneliness isn’t about being alone, it’s about not feeling connected. The light bulb photo is a metaphor on how connection sparks energy bringing a comforting, cozy feeling of warmth to our hearts. Teens are experiencing connection via a new vehicle – the smartphone is replacing the car.
But we are diminishing the connection experience when we don’t meet face to face because personal contact is essential to our very core. It’s like dimming the light bulb: we may still be able to see our surroundings but not feel the glow of the warm light to our souls. Being in a chat room is not the same as being in a living room – a LOL is not the same as seeing someone smile and laugh in front of you. The touch of a handshake, the tone of voice, the body language, the human interaction -all is diminished over broadband. Emailing and texting are valuable tools but they should not serve as a replacement for meeting in person. We all need to find a better balance to nurture our personal relationships without neglecting the value of being present in person.
Next time you catch yourself in a long email trail, buck the trend and climb into that old-fashioned relic we call a car and drive over to see that friend. Even better, when you meet up, leave the smartphone in the car. Call me old school, but hi-tech should never replace hi-touch in making deeper connections.