Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Electronic Bubble

When I was a teenager (she said, cackling in her dotage), I had half a dozen friends who hung out at my house frequently, just as I often hung out at theirs. That put me on speaking terms with approximately 15 or 20 adults I might not have known otherwise. One of my friends had a mom who was a company nurse at Delta Air Lines, who gave me the name of the a good doctor--my first grown-up doctor, not a pediatrician. I knew that the parents of another friend were straight-arrow religious fundamentalists who were really going to have trouble when their son came out of the closet, assuming he ever did; I knew the father of another friend, a lawyer who probably drank too much. It was an early introduction to the wider world--and my friends got something out of knowing my parents, too. I still remember the time my dad proved to a hushed assembly of teenagers that he could, in fact, shoot a housefly out of the air with a rubber band. (He really was phenomenal. My dad, that is. Not the housefly.)

The reason all this happened was that we did not have cellphones, and texting was not an option. My kids, however, have cellphones--according to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of teens between the ages of 11 and 17 do--and, as most teens do, they text incessantly. They are in such constant contact with their friends that when they get home from school, actually having friends over is the last thing on their minds. Why would you want to hang out with somebody who is already (figuratively speaking) hanging out in your back pocket?

The result is that I don't know my kids' friends the way my parents knew mine, and that feels like a loss. It's one more way in which we are electronically tethered to each other, yet lonelier than ever.

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