“Here’s your Kung Pao Chicken and Spicy Beef Stew.” After what seemed to be the longest wait ever , which was also accompanied by hunger and an exhaustion of conversation topics, our food was finally brought to the table.
I reached out for a large piece of beef, only to be interrupted by the 15-year-old sitting across the table. “Hold on! Let me Snapchat this to my friends first. Wait, you know what Snapchat is, right?”
Yes, I do know what Snapchat is. In fact, I probably knew about it much earlier than you did. I have had the app on my phone right after its launch in 2011 – I just never use it, even though I know it has become the “thing” now. For one thing, I am incredibly awkward with video selfies. Also, what happened to expressing your feelings with beautiful words and perfect sarcasm in complete sentences?
For the rest of the dinner, I watched the 15-year-old I am somewhat “baby-sitting” and her friends giggle at their phones every ten minutes and conduct conversations in six-second video clips. Besides the urge to teach them some table manners and explain to them it’s rude to check your phone that often during a social setting, I also felt old and left out. At one moment, it occurred to me that I’ve become my mother. All of a sudden, I could relate to her frustration with me on the use of computer and cellphones.
I was in junior high when I got my first computer with Internet access. I got hooked to it right away and quickly started to spent more and more time talking to strangers in chatrooms and stay up at night to play Monopoly online. This made my mother upset- she thought that my good-daughter days were over and with my “Internet addiction” an academic apocalypse was looming on the horizon. Even my graduation from a top university and my smooth career development didn’t stop her concerns. At one point, she said: you used to love family gatherings and go to social dinners with me and your dad. Now you would rather spend all the time at home looking down at your phone. You’ve changed. You’ve become antisocial. ”
Her accusation got me thinking: Can I really be antisocial if I am on social media all the time? Don’t all those likes under my WeChat pictures count? Do all my followers on Instagram mean nothing? Look at all the people I know on LinkedIn! Then I realized that I am not antisocial, I am just anti-my-mother’s-way-of-social. For her generation, people switch name cards instead of usernames and QR codes. Being social means getting business deals done around the “Lazy Susan”, reuniting with high school classmates every year and being the resourceful matchmaker that introduces your colleague’s son to your old army buddy’s daughter.
The popularity of the Internet and smart phones has fundamentally changed the way how people socialize. In this brave new world, people are no longer confined to the social networks they are born with – the neighbors, classmates and colleagues. We can meet people of chosen similarities base on our own preferences, such as hobby, religion, political views without the geographical limitations. It is easier than ever for us to completely reconstruct our own social networks and the possibilities are infinite. Such change made my parents uncomfortable initially, not only because it was pulling my world and their part, but also because they felt the threat towards their “edge” as the most resourceful few among their crowd – the Internet leveled the playing field for everybody and I can probably find a much better date on OKcupid than relying on her acquaintances.
Just like my frustration with Snapchat isn’t unique, my parents’ frustration with the Internet and smartphones can also be compared with my grandparent’s frustration with TVs. I remember hearing my grandparents complain about disappearing Chinese New Year’s celebration rituals – traditionally, Chinese people celebrate the new year by having a big family dinner on New Year’s Eve and visiting all your neighbors afterwards. When TV became a household necessity, people rush to finish dinner so they can catch the New Year celebration show on national TV. The elderly are often portrayed as the saddest generation as they watch their children and grand children being totally engaged in modern technology, feeling abandoned and alone.
As we have discussed in class, being social is an innate human quality and our social needs will prevail. The first social network was not formed by Facebook – it exited when men gathered around in a cave to share the food they hunted thousands of years ago. However, as time goes by, revolutionary technologies will continue to change the way we communicate and socialize, and the aforementioned frustration will remain inevitable as we get taken further away from our known reality. This might also explain why it is harder for older people to adapt to modern technology – the difficulty not only lies in the learning of new gadgets, but also letting go of deeply-rooted, ritualized social practices. Their attachment to such social practices are not only habitual, but also emotional. The grandparents will always look forward to the New Year Eve’s dinner, as that is the one social occasion that ties their entire world together. I will always treasure talking to my good friends by typing on a keyboard, as that’s how I built my selected social network. As for my toddler nephews and nieces, may they live a happy life with whatever technology they will be blessed with.
Douglas Adams has perfectly summarizes our attitude towards change in technology in the below quote:
” I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. “
I hope this will help postpone or decrease that inevitable frustration when it hits me. Until then, maybe it’s time for me to click on the yellow icon again and figure out how to puke rainbows.