The "Me Me Me" Generation Is Really the "We" Generation
by TAYLOR DOBBS
My generation is the last that will even remember a line between the physical and digital realms. The last generation that existed solely in the physical world is already gone. Today we exist, simultaneously, twice.
As our parents adopted email and cell phones and smart TVs and text messaging, they too developed a presence in the digital, but their identity was still a physical one. When my mother sits at her computer for a half hour to check her email, she is tending to a chore. She ceases to exist as a participant in the physical world, tending to the work email and spam and online bills, but that is a thing she does, not a piece of what she is.
I am flesh and blood and spit and firing neurons, but I am also that static, 500-square-pixel avatar image on Twitter and the text message threads in my friends’ phones. So when my physical eyes are looking down at my iPhone texting and Tweeting as I walk down the street, I am not ignoring this great world we live in, I am existing on its other plane. I am building real human friendships with people I’ve never physically met or I am making plans with people I already know.
There are those who say I’m missing out, that my generation is, as David Carr put it in a 2011 column, “adjacent but essentially alone, texting and talking our way through what should have been a great chance to engage flesh-and-blood human beings.”
Are we missing out when we commute by car to work instead of walking or when we brew coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks? Certainly those are blown opportunities for human interaction. But when I look down at my phone to respond to a Tweet, it’s not to get away (although Angry Birds has, on occasion, made public transit bearable), it’s to connect with real flesh-and-blood human beings, each looking at their screens somewhere else. Are we all missing out? Are we the downfall of civilization? Are we just rude? Must my flesh and blood be in close physical proximity to someone else’s flesh and blood in order for our interaction to be real and human?
If the screens are all we look at, of course, we’ve failed to use the technology for its intended purpose; it’s meant to augment our ability to live in our world, not take us away from it. But if we let these screens be part of our lives, serve us a wider world, connect us with other flesh and blood humans, what have we lost? And what have we gained?
Our screens have given a generation a feeling of political efficacy, a voice, an international community, friendship, conversation, kindness.