(by Mir from WouldaShoulda)
As a child—and perhaps even more so, as a teenager—I was jealous of my friends who lived in neighborhoods where they could walk to other friends' houses. We lived kind of out in the sticks, and if I was to hang out in proximity to another kid my own age, I would need a ride. And it's not that I never got to go to other people's houses, but it wasn't nearly as frequent as I wished. Basically I wanted to be able to access my friends any time I felt like it, a.k.a., always.
The result of this sad state of affairs was twofold: First, during school (and classes where talking was prohibited, or the desired friends were in different classes) I wrote notes. Lots and lots of notes. The beauty of a note was that if you did it right, it looked like you were hard at work on whatever you were supposed to be doing, and then you could either chuck it at your intended recipient when the teacher's back was turned (if she was in your class) or pass it off in the hallway in passing (if she wasn't). The horror of notes, of course, was that someone else could get ahold of them. Woe betide the sloppy note-deliverer who had her missive snagged by the teacher… or—worse!—a note about the crush-of-the-day intercepted by either the boy in question or a mean girl who would make sure you wished you'd never existed, much less admitted who you liked.
The second result, of course, was that once I got home from a day at school with my friends, I immediately got on the phone. This drove my mother crazy until the advent of this new-fangled thing called Call Waiting, at which point I was free to stay on the line as long as I liked, provided I answered the beep when it came and surrendered the handset accordingly. I spent years of my teenagerhood whining and wheedling for a phone in my room—why, several of the popular girls had not just a phone right in their rooms, but their own, separate phone lines—and it never happened. I think I was in my last year of high school when we finally got a cordless phone, which at least allowed me to retreat into my room with it temporarily.
In those late-middle-school and early-high-school years, being out of immediately communication with my friends felt like a fate worse than death.
Back then I never could've imagined that the day would come when every teenager would appear to have arms that come to an end at a permanent junction between thumbs and smartphone. "We didn't have texting when we were your age, and WE SURVIVED!" we try to tell today's teens, like this is something utterly new. It isn't, of course. We had notes, they have texts and emails. We used to talk on the phone because that was the most immediate communication available to us when we were apart; today's teens find texting faster and easier, and if they must got a different route, email and Facebook suffice. Somehow it feels more dangerous to us adults, jaded by age as we are, and because "back in our day" it never would've occurred to us to send naked pictures to our boyfriends (mostly because the logistics of doing so were much more complicated, I'm sure).
But is it? Or is this just the same separate-from-the-parents, cleave-to-the-peers teenage routine that has been going on for years and years, albeit now much more technology-assisted?
I read stories about cyber-bullying, about pictures and videos and emails intended for one set of eyes gone viral, and I cringe for those kids and their not-yet-fully-formed brains and poor decision making skills. At the same time, I have a vague memory of a year-long series of "comics" a friend and I drew for each other (via notes, natch) in which the central theme was the violent murder of several teachers and classmates we disdained. Those notes never fell into the wrong hands, nor would we have done anything untoward in real life, but by today's standards, post-Columbine, I can see where our little "joke" was a terrible idea that could've landed us in a world of trouble. Had you told me that at the time, though, I probably would've just drawn you into the cartoon… and then made sure you were eaten by a surprise shark.
We let out our collective angst and we bonded over the unfairness of that impossible limbo between childhood and adulthood. We spent hours on the phone, wrote reams of nonsense to one another, and often spent our actual time in one another's company doing nothing much at all.
Today's teens text each other until their thumbs are calloused, and post pictures of each other making duckfaces, and we parents worry incessantly because they don't seem to know how to talk to each other. Every teen I know seems to hate talking on the phone. None of them know how to write a letter, save for whatever form letter they're forced to practice in English class. Even when they're in person together, everyone's on their phones. It seems like they're more susceptible to the media "shoulds" than we were, maybe, because they're immersed in the one-sided online world (buy this, do this, look like this) for so many hours every day. I worry how it changes things like the formation of girls' self esteem.
Are things different now, or is this the same as it ever was, just with Internet added in? Is my nagging feeling that today's teens aren't forging the same sorts of friendships and connections we once had a valid concern or just me being old and out of touch?
(Get More Mir Here)