When I hear adults worry about the distraction smart phones represent to them, I wonder if this is because they associate smart phones with work and obligations, rather than fun and friendship.
I’m reading danah boyd’s new book “It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens” – and you should too.
Start with this description of teenagers at a high school football game in 2010:
(M)any were texting frantically while trying to find one another in the crowd. Once they connected, the texting often stopped. (…) And even though teens are frequent texters, the teens were not directing most of their attention to their devices. When they did look at their phones, they were often sharing the screen with the person sitting next to them, reading or viewing something together.
The parents in the stands were paying much more attention to their devices. They were even more universally equipped with smartphones than their children, and those devices dominated their focus. I couldn’t tell whether they were checking email or simply supplementing the football game with other content, being either bored or distracted. But many adults were staring into their devices intently, barely looking up when a touchdown was scored. And unlike the teens, they weren’t sharing their devices with others or taking photos of the event.
It’s an anecdote, but given how much research boyd has worked on about kids’ use of cell phones and digital media, I trust that it illustrates a general tendency: Digital natives use social media and smart phones for actual socializing. Or as danah boyd puts it: "Most teens aren’t addicted to social media; if anything, they’re addicted to each other."
I was long out of high school in 2010, but I am still young enough to be labeled a digital native. Last Friday night, I hung out in a friend’s apartment with Indian take-out, wine and a group of other 20-something girls. We all used our phones, as well as the host’s laptop, throughout the evening. One of us posted an image of the Indian take-out menu on Facebook, tagged the whole group, and thanked the girl who recommended the restaurant to us. We video-chatted – together – with a friend who lives far away and couldn’t be there. We all took Buzzfeed’s privilege quiz (separately – it has some very personal questions) and discussed the questions and our results. And of course we listened to playlists on Spotify (including automatically generated hit lists based on what other people listen to) and texted with another friend about which bar we would go to later. But we didn’t sit next to each other and stare at our individual screens – why would we do that?
The people I hang out with who actually turn away from me to scroll through Twitter, like a bunch of random photos on Instagram or write a comment on a recently-posted Facebook photo, are always older than me.