We live in a social age where friends are quantified by Facebook and their “closeness to us” by the number of likes received. So are personal relationships really important anymore or are they something we should put on and take off like an old coat?
When I talk to the current generation that have grown up with social media as part of the way they manage their relationships it’s clear to me that something has changed. I’ve noticed that committing yourself to an event (eg. a birthday party) is something you leave to the last minute as there may be a better offer in your news feed. Or worse yet, commit yourself and then just don’t bother to go.
I know of a teenager that had a birthday party and only two thirds of the people turned up that said they would. Of the two thirds, about half a dozen cared enough to bring a birthday present. Sadly, birthday parties are now less about celebrating someone’s birthday and more about running an event that attracts your social peers.
I may be showing my age here, but I wouldn’t dream of turning up to a friend’s birthday without bringing a gift. It seems this courtesy has deserted the current generation in their self-absorbed focus on me, myself and I.
Many gen Y’s don’t have a party in fear that their “friends” will opt to go to something else and leave them looking like a social pariah. It’s a sad fact that a person’s word to do or attend an event is secondary to their desire for self-gratification.
It’s any wonder that Jane Austen movies like “Pride and Prejudice” are still hits. The character of Mr Darcy has become a figment of a girl’s imagination as they look around at his antithesis being displayed by the behaviour of the current generation of males who are more concerned with themselves rather than the “fair maidens”.
Friendships are transitory and survive as long as they are needed. The goal here is to have lots of acquaintances (ie. friends on Facebook or Snapchat) so your social calendar is full of meaningless parties where no one actually gets to know anyone else in a deeper sort of way.
Here’s what I see is the problem with all of this. It’s through deep friendships that we truly learn about ourselves and the good and bad aspects of our character. If you hop from one person to another I can guarantee that no one will take the time or effort to have any sort of serious conversation with you. It will be all froth and bubble that’s aimed at fulfilling the most superficial of desires.
I’m not against having a good time but there’s something so much more satisfying about having time with a friend you’ve known for many years. You can sit in silence together just enjoying each other’s company, laugh about some funny story from the past or lend an empathetic ear when one of you is going through a difficult time. The current generation looks on someone openly sharing as an opportunity for a tweet to increase their own social standing….so much for confidentiality.
Close friendships are often the training ground for close relationships. If you don’t know how to have a close friendship, then how are you going to survive a lifelong commitment to a relationship with a partner? Or how about committing yourself to children? The potential end result is fractured families with devastated children. Society does it’s best to cope but governmental child agencies and family courts are bursting at the seams as the demand for their services escalates. This is despite the huge sums of money invested.
There are so many basic interpersonal skills that have been lost. I was looking at a group of six friends at a coffee shop the other day. While one person was speaking, the other five were typing away on their phones. Why bother getting together?
Many young guys no longer have any idea how to ask a girl out let alone how to have a pleasant conversation because everything is typed with emojis. LOL and ROFL have now become words as raucous and hilarious have been dropped from the vernacular. It sometimes makes me wonder whether George Orwell’s 1984 Newspeak was just a little delayed with expressions such as “double good” to mean something is twice as good as good!
There was a great scene in the move “The Intern” when Anne Hathaway’s character (company CEO) commented to Robert De Niro (Ben - who is an older intern):
“How, in one generation, have men gone from guys like jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to... take Ben, here. A dying breed. You know? Look and learn, boys. Because if you ask me, this is what cool is.”
So who was Ben? He was a courteous, hardworking and chivalrous older man that showed love and respect to those around him. He was more concerned with serving than being served. He ended up being promoted and appreciated by everyone in the company.
The other day I attended a friend’s daughter’s wedding and the minister insightfully spoke about the different between a marriage contract and a marriage covenant. Sadly, in many respects the contract reflects many of society’s current attitudes….it’s all about my rights, what I get and receive from my marriage. In contrast a covenant is all about giving, not getting, and has nothing to do with rights.
For those of you that are thinking that you’ve escaped what allures the Gen X, Y and even Zers then think again. When you look at President Trumps behaviour of late he is more interested in the content of his next tweet than keeping confidential private discussions with world leaders. If I was the Prime Minister of Australia, then I would insist on an NDA being signed prior to my next discussion.
So is social media bad and is the current generation completely “off the planet”? Like many tools (including money) social media is not bad but needs to be treated as a tool to encourage and foster relationships around the world. It is not a substitute for relationships. A quick IM is nice but don’t expect your relationship with someone to grow solely on the back of such activity.
I’m fifty-one years old and I’m well aware there is a generation gap between myself and the following generations. What I find revealing is that when you talk one-on-one to a young person they relate many of the same concerns that I have. They long for meaningful friendships and a person who will really listen to their cares and concerns.
So where to from here? I think society is in for a number of social shocks over the coming years. When I talk to parents, many of them are struggling to relate to their teenage children and this often places stresses on all the family relationships.
In my own family, the meal table has become a phone free zone….in fact, for a long time we had a sign which said exactly that. Each night we chat (verbally and face to face) with one another, listening and laughing at the days events without constant text interruptions. It’s now become a time that we all look forward to (the fact that Roselyn is a great cook helps!) and a breath of fresh air is breathed into the almost lost art of conversation.
Have a great week!