There’s a meme floating around now challenging people to live without their mobile phones for a week, with the corollary that people my age and younger wouldn’t be able to. It’s the same thinking that brought us Smashed Avocado Economics, and it’s just as misguided.
To play devil’s advocate, people of my generation and younger do spend a significant amount of our lives glued to our phones. There have been plenty of hot takes, from cartoons to stories of aliens perplexed by all these humans distracted by the palms of their hands. Mobile games generate ridiculous amounts of money, and so-called influencers affect the purchasing decisions of millions.
But there’s a flip side, a pun that would have worked a decade ago. Millennials lack the long term job security so many of our parents had. We have to make do with less, and are expected to always be available, often by the same people who mock our use of phones. And it’s as much a work pressure as it is social.
(It’s the same pressure behind using Facebook. I’m lucky that mine can sit languishing for years without a login, but for recruiters a lack of social media accounts signals you have embarrassing, misguided, or compromising things to hide, not that you’ve taken an ethical privacy stance. Please think of that next time you’re tempted to say privacy violations by a monopoly aren’t a problem because users can just delete their accounts; it’s not a valid stance, it’s plain ol' victim blaming of the dullest, most predictable kind).
So before you judge a young person checking their phone as you walk past, consider it’s because they just got a message from their boss saying they’re needed for another shift at the place you buy things from, or to maintain the servers that run the systems you live off. These pundits would be surprised how often that’s exactly the case. Or they would be, if they possessed empathy.
The problem isn’t that people are checking their phones, or ordering avocado toast, or whatever moral panic the media and simpletons throw around in a vein attempt to steer their morose, scapegoating high horses. For want of a better phrase, it’s all about tellingly-ordered work/life balance, and the broader mental health of our society.
Thing is, those problems require actual thought to tackle, not just a smug throwaway line. But tell the young person making your sandwich at Subway anyway, I’m sure they’d be thrilled to hear it.