I had the opportunity recently to spend time around a group of young women and children. However, it was difficult to make eye contact with the adults. Forget conversation. Do people even know how to make small talk any more? The people I did have conversations with were two other grandmothers, there to help their families, as was I.
Each young parent, when not interacting with a child, had their attention focused on a cell phone. Why speak to anyone else when you are messaging others or searching the web? Anyone who needed assistance and asked the collective for it, was ignored. A specific ask to an individual was given a positive response, however reluctantly.
There was a time in such a situation, you had conversations about the kids, the occasion, the weather, any number of topics which passed the time and spoke to the shared experience of the day. You might never see the people again, but you had the sense you shared this common human connection in time and place with them. Are those days gone? Is isolation in a group the new norm?
Children learn the social norms from their parents and the other adults around them. What are we teaching them now, ignore the person next to you and say whatever you want to the world? The impersonal connections of today via social media, where anyone can say anything, can lead to bullying in the extreme. Not having to look someone in the eye makes it easier to insult or harass others. The rash of adolescent suicides due to on-line bullying is alarming.
Are we seeing the end of the shared human experience but rather parallel experiences, shared via hand-held devices? Will we be alone in a group, connected to untold information but uninterested in human presence around us? Where will it lead? I fear we will lose the humanizing art of small talk.