I may have mentioned earlier that the house cleaning chicks at the retirement center where I live laugh at my flip top cell phone because it does nothing but allow me to make phone calls. Yesterday I found the pair of them on a break, crouching against a wall. Neither was talking. Their eyes were fixed on their smart phones. As I passed, I asked if they were checking their stock portfolios. I got a laugh, at least.
Much has been written about the perils of smart phones and whether or not they represent the decline and fall of today’s younger generation. Certainly, smart phones don’t encourage a thoughtful exchange of ideas, like the one I’d enjoyed at lunch that afternoon with a fellow retirement resident. In fact, today’s young are so glued to their gadgets that writer Sherry Turkle of the New York Times, wonders if these devices represent a change not just in what we do but who we are. (Excerpted in The Week, October 16, 2015, pg. 17)
As a partial response to that question, I already noted in an earlier blog (7/31/15) that psychologists have discovered a decline in empathy among college students. Most of that decline took place after 2000 when the Millennials began to exert influence on the economy. (Ibid pg. 17.) Some researchers link the change in attitudes to a decline in face to face conversations and a preference for the virtual world. (Ibid, pg. 17.)
I’m not so sure. in my earlier days, I wouldn’t have thought it odd to walk into a café or restaurant to find customers glued to their books, newspapers or magazines. As Tracy Moor observes in Jezebel.com, “We humans have always been prone to shallowness and self-absorption – with or without a smart phone in our pockets.” (Ibid pg. 17.)
As for the loss of empathy, I haven’t seen much of that. The popularity of crowdsourcing shows that young people are more than willing to reach out to help others. My experience with Millennials is anecdotal but I suggest scientists shift their research from the question of how smart phones affect empathy to the question of how smart phones affect dating.