By MATTHEW ORMSETH
Have the millennials won? It seems as if, at some point in the last couple of years, the Uber-utilizing, selfie-stick-sporting twenty-something-year-olds went from being the objects of ridicule and scorn to not only the arbiters of cool, but the arbiters of will and will not sell in today’s tech-obsessed world.
It seems as if, somewhat overnight, the parents of millennials went from deriding millennials for the narcissism of so-called “selfie culture” to posting badly lit, badly edited selfies of their own. Service-based apps like Uber and Airbnb are no longer considered avant-garde or cutting edge, and are now widely accepted as safe and reliable alternatives to traditional taxis and hotels.
But is this triumph of millennialism necessarily such a good thing?
Don’t get me wrong — I’m no Luddite. I think certain apps, like Google Maps, for instance, are nearly indispensable in this day and age. I’m amazed and thankful for the computing capacity I carry around in my pocket. Social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have allowed me to stay in contact with my friends back at home while I’m at school, 3,000 miles away.
But I think there’s something to be said for the criticisms of our parents, those who scorned the social media ecosystem for its shallowness and vanity and apps like Grubhub for their catering to laziness, before changing sides, swapping out their Thomas Guides and address books and handwritten letters for smartphones and selfie sticks.
I think the problem with this technology, specifically the apps programmed into our smartphones, employed and celebrated by us millennials, is that it panders to the worst aspects of human nature.
Food-based apps like Grubhub and Eatstreet allow us to order, pay, and tip with a few taps of the phone screen. All that’s required of us now is to walk the couple of feet to the door when our food arrives.
Uber encourages us to eschew the hazardous and taxing drudgery of walking in favor of a cheap and near-instantaneous pick-up and drop-off chauffeur service.
Facebook allows us to send and receive covert and not-so-covert messages through its hazily defined, emergent vocabulary of likes, comments, and direct messages.
Instagram gives us free pass to indulge in unadulterated narcissism — the ratio of followers who liked your selfie to number of followers in total is now seen as an accurate appraisal of attractiveness.
Instagram and Facebook are instruments of cowardice, in my opinion — only those moments and snapshots deemed publicity worthy are allowed to pass through the selectively permeable social media membrane, a veritable Iron Curtain of our own design that publicizes our proudest moments with great fanfare, and disappears the ugly and embarrassing ones, never to be seen again.
If we interpret our Facebook profiles and Instagram accounts as carefully curated highlight reels, we might understand that our own lives, whose myriad mundanities and failures we alone are privy to, shouldn’t be compared to the best-of montages of our friends. But when we forget that, and interpret Facebook and Instagram profiles as accurate representations of life, we can’t help but feeling like a loser, and alone in our loserliness.
Perhaps it’s time for us, as millennials, to signal a new shift, and this one away from the technophiliac craze. Instead of sending an old friend a five-second, ephemeral Snapchat, write them a letter. Instead of summoning an Uber to ferry you five blocks down the street, walk there, and take in the world around you. Instead of liking a friend’s photo, tell them they look good in person. Instead of ordering from your favorite restaurant on Grubhub and picking up your meal wordlessly from a kid who’s been treated like a robot for so long he’s starting to wonder if he’s become one, walk to that favorite restaurant, sit down, and have a meal.
There’s more to life than convenience. At least, I hope there is. And while the 21st century’s equivalent of the Industrial Revolution might have made our daily lives and the countless, minute social interactions contained within a day easier, or less threatening, life is, at times, essentially difficult and threatening. And that’s the way it should be.
Matthew Ormseth writes from New York and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.