The Isolated Generation: How Millennials Came To Fear IRL Communication
I was standing in line at Starbucks on Wednesday afternoon. I was second in line. The woman ahead of me was ordering three venti Frappuccinos.
The man standing behind me had two young sons who were anxiously waiting to submit their order of hot chocolates and salted caramel cake pops. We didn’t speak.
The silence was filled with coffees brewing and blenders chomping away at broken pieces of ice dripping in chocolate sauce. I stood there, tapping my metallic heels and watching the minutes slip away from my lunch break.
I ordered a non-fat, white chocolate mocha, no whip.
“That sounds really delicious.”
I turned around to see the man with two sons grinning at me. He was an older gentleman, maybe in his early to mid-40s with thinning hair and a salt and pepper goatee.
His hands were placed on his older son’s head as he ran his fingers through his hair. The younger son, who was maybe 6 years old, ignored his father’s words as he moved his hands around, playing the game that was vibrantly displayed on his cell phone.
“Thanks,” I replied awkwardly. I didn’t know what to say.
"Why are you even talking to me?" I thought to myself.
“I’ve never had that drink before. Is it any good?” he carried on.
I peeked at his left finger and spotted a gold wedding band on his ring finger.
Okay, he’s not hitting on me.
I answered him politely, and then scooted out of the line to put an end to the awkward conversation. He went on to order, and then shook the hands of an older gentleman who had complimented his children's behavior.
I stood off to the side in silence, clicking away at my phone to check if anyone new had liked the Instagram selfie I had taken in the car. (I was having a really awesome hair day.)
When I went to grab a napkin from the coffee bar, the man smiled at me again and wished me well, saying in a very friendly way, “Have a fantastic day.”
"What a freak," I thought, and began clicking my heels toward the exit, hot coffee and cell phone in hand.
Later that day, I was driving home and stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. My radio was on, but I was barely listening to it.
How many times can you hear “Where Are Ü Now” on the radio before the lyrics are imbedded in your head, so you hear them even when there's no music on?
The windows were down on this idyllic autumn afternoon, and there was a slight breeze coming in. I looked to the left of me and saw a woman walking out of an Italian bistro with her head down, looking at her phone and ignoring her young daughter, who skipped across the pavement toward their car, eagerly trying to get her attention.
I then looked to my right and saw a young girl, no more than 17 years old, briskly typing and sending texts to her friends faster than I ever would have been able to at her age.
Then, I looked down at my own phone, flashing and beeping with my best friend’s name popping up.
She had sent me a Snapchat of her drinking Canadian beer in Montreal, with the hashtag “#GetIt” strewn across the picture of her mouth gaping open. She was wearing a low-cut blouse, and her lips were cradled against the frosted glass.
Then, I thought about the man in Starbucks.
Maybe he wasn't the freak; I was.
In this technologically-advanced society, we’ve lost the connections we once had with other people.
Grocery store lines were filled with people who had conversations with the person standing to the back of them. Going out to dinner was once sparked with laughter, asking about each other's days and reminiscing about fond memories.
Now, these situations are filled with Instagram selfies and checking the latest Facebook update since you last checked it five minutes ago.
Even standing in line at Starbucks used to be filled with excitement. Now, it’s consumed with groups of 13-year-old girls taking selfies and talking about how difficult the transition from eighth grade to freshman year is, like it's some kind of big deal.
What happened to all of us?
I remember when I was 13 years old. I still wanted to play with plastic food and Barbie dolls. Thirteen-year-olds today who carry around that desire would be laughing stocks.
Life doesn't exist with that form of innocence anymore. Imagination has been replaced by image.
Ten years ago, when I first started standing at Starbucks in my local Barnes & Noble, I remember spending time with my best friends from high school.
We would be walking down aisles, sifting out cool books we wanted to read and sitting down to maybe do our homework or gossip about Mrs. B's new nose job.
Visit a Starbucks, a movie theater, a Forever 21 or a bench on a local pier today, and you'll realize nobody exists in the moment. People document, but they don't participate.
It says something about the age of innocence, and how it may only exist in comedies from the late 1980s and early 90s.
I thought about this guy in Starbucks who did nothing wrong. He was simply a man who initiated conversations with the people around him.
That’s what people did in the olden days, you know. Those were the days before the word "selfie" was actually allowed to be in the dictionary, and when music had meaning and singers sang without autotune.
What had this man done that allowed me to instantly cast him aside as someone outside the realm of normalcy?
Maybe the problem wasn’t with him. Maybe it was with me. Maybe it was with all of us.
I started to wonder as the traffic began to move.
Had I lost all sense of what it was like to be human, even though I had once existed in a time without cell phones?