Have you ever been that person in the social situation who doesn’t know what to do or how to interact, so you pull out your cell phone and pretend to text someone? Or maybe you actually text someone just to not feel totally inadequate.
According to a report by the CTIA: The Wireless Association, mobile users sent an average of 4.1 billion text messages every day. That is almost 1.5 trillion text messages in the entire year. The average number of daily Tweets reported was 27.3 million.
But while the social media boom is clearly on its upswing, real life social skills are ironically falling off in dramatic fashion.
Usually, when I walk on campus, I smile and nod at people, greeting them as I pass. Not all notice. But most of the ones that do notice find it quite weird. It’s even worse when I say something like “Hello.”
Sometimes I wonder how we actually make friends without liquid courage.
Every so often, Zac Hampton, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, will perform an experiment on campus. All day, he will smile at everyone he passes within reasonable distance. In his past experiences, he’s received very few smiles in return. As a joyful and attractive man, it was definitely not his appearance scaring people.
Trevor Smith, a junior majoring in screenwriting, has noticed something similar. As a former Spirit Leader, he will occasionally extend a “Fight on!” to people he encounters on campus only to endure looks that seem to ask “Are you crazy?!” Our USC tour guides must be falsely advertising when they tell people that students constantly greet each other with this Trojan battle cry.
Frequently, I get a Facebook friend request from someone I have just met, or someone that saw me across a room, or someone I’ve never seen or heard of in my life.
Sometimes it is just that, a friend request to solidify our “friendship” as “official.” Other times, this ceremonial friendship betrothing results in some awkward electronic conversation or an attempt at one at least.
I wonder to myself: Why hasn’t this person ever talked to me like real people talk? I know I’m not the only one to encounter such unconventional social skills.
Then there is Twitter, which is just another electronic excuse for us to lack social dexterity. “Grocery shopping.” “Finally found a table in the Lot.” Or worse yet: “Drink number one at the 9-0.” Quickly followed by: “Drink number two at the 9-0” in some infinite loop as if in between drinks the tweeter masquerades his lack of human interaction by mass texting some absurdly boring message.
We read these messages (that we really don’t care to read) because, when we have our face in our phones, we are excused from relating with people in our physical presence.
Just last week, I was eating in a restaurant and all four people at the table next to me were silent and staring at their napkins. After a mild double-take, I realized they were all texting. The only time I heard noise from their table was ordering, eating, drinking and a chuckle after one read aloud a moderately funny message.
Cell phones are to us what books were to unsocial “book nerds.” Except for some reason cell phones are more socially acceptable.
In the beginning of the cell phone era, it was unmannerly to use a cell phone in the presence of people unless it was an emergency call. The reason was simple: Human relationships in the moment are more important than any detached electronic connection.
These social mediums are great for keeping in contact with people we do not get to see on a regular basis. But we have allowed them to kill our ability to intermingle, even to the point of relying completely on alcohol.
There used to be a time when constant social interaction defined society. People cared more for each other because they talked to each other, even strangers. In fact, some of the most life-changing conversations I have had were with complete strangers willing to respond to my greeting and be vulnerable.
Etiquette was not some set of rules that made us strut pompously. Rather, it was a set of guidelines, which made for effective, efficient and real relationships that went beyond complaining about homework, test difficulty or football.
A few lessons in etiquette along with an increased desire to actually know people will take our socializing capabilities a long way while making our USC community interconnected on a deeper level than any mass electronic message could possibly do.
Jensen Carlsen is a senior majoring in economics and mathematics. His column “The Bridge” runs Wednesdays.