Brano, my high school hockey coach, never left us wondering. He told us, to our faces, what we did wrong, what we did right, how we could win and why we lost. We never received an email, text or tweet from our coach; he was present in our lives and in turn we responded in kind. Our team communicated on the ice, had sleepovers and team community service trips, pre-game meals and post-game ice cream runs. And to Brano’s credit, we won two state tournaments.
Save for an occasional pick-up game, my hockey playing days are behind me, but it’s a game that is still in my blood and from which I take life-long inspiration in my personal and professional life. Recently I watched a team hockey practice of a 13-year-old family friend. Afterwards, I sat down with him and chatted about our mutual love of the game, and his experience as a high schooler thus far. As I reminisced about my days of team bonding with him, I immediately realized how ‘uncool’ older generations seem to teens (yes, even millennials like myself). Today’s teenagers aren’t playing Snake on their flip phones on the bus ride home from school, trading (physical) Pokemon cards, calling their friends on a land line, or going to Blockbuster for the weekend’s sleepover VHS rental.
From our short conversation, I learned that there are new standards for what’s ‘cool’ on Instagram, and rules for how many ‘likes’ are acceptable. It’s standard practice for kids to have one account to present the polished version of themselves and another fake Instagram to show the weird, goofy side of themselves to their closest friends (but you can never admit you have a second account – that’s a no no). Teen evenings are no longer spent gathered in a family’s basement, gossiping or doing school projects, but rather alone in their bedrooms chatting on Google Hangout.
Think that’s a lot? I’m pretty sure I’ve just barely scratched the surface. Business Insider reported on research which found that, on average, teens get their first smartphone at age 11, and spend 6+ hours a day glued to those little screens. That’s A LOT of time to perfect the art of social media, but doesn’t leave much time to actually interact.
So what does it mean for the rest of us who are long past age 13?
Newton’s Third Law states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” Sir Isaac’s wisdom got me thinking… while teens are probably the most active smartphone users, we’re all guilty of becoming deeply intertwined in our phone worlds.
I’m not necessarily here to hate on Snapchat or Instagram – I like all of it just as much as the next person. But I am wondering about the effect they have on us, and the even stronger impact they’ll have on the next generation of adults. We’ve become conditioned to equate a ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook post or a quick Instagram mention with quality friendship. But when relationships take effort or a communication might make us uncomfortable – like making a phone call date that you absolutely do not cancel, or driving half an hour to bring dinner to a co-worker who’s had a bad day – many of us are falling short.
But if we’re happy with the status quo, why does it matter?
Feeling content with today’s technological relationship? It might be time to take a step back and reconsider. Research suggests that these seemingly connected relationships are making us less present, and less engaged on a human level… and they may even impact our longevity. 15 years ago the average American had three close friends. Today, even though we are more connected than ever, we are down to one and a half. That’s not good news.That’s not good news.
Author Dan Buettner researched some of the oldest populations in the world – places where people live well into their hundreds. What commonality do you think he found across these centenarian populations? It definitely isn’t a close following of Kim Kardashian’s latest diet tweets. The answer is actually quite simple.
He writes about Okinawa, a place where the average person lives about seven years longer than the average American.
“And if you’re in a Moai you’re expected to share the bounty if you encounter luck, and if things go bad, child gets sick, parent dies, you always have somebody who has your back. In the particular Moai [I studied], these five ladies have been together for 97 years. Their average age is 102,” he continues.
I’m willing to bet that these five 100+ year old women aren’t Snapchatting their happy birthday wishes to one another. Their deep friendships are rooted in the quality of their interactions. They depend on one another and trust that they will get back what they put into their relationships. The result is a community of people who feel responsible for one another, giving each of them a purpose to live a healthy lifestyle for the good of the entire community.
How do I find my Moai?
If you weren’t born in Okinawa, that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own version of a Moai.
It starts with seeking out communities of people who are willing to go the extra mile – to leave the phone world and put in the effort to establish honest connections.
For me, it started with my hockey team way back in high school. Today, I’ve found it with my colleagues; we work together, work out together and spend time outside of the office watching football on Sunday or meeting for dinner. As I prepare for a trip from the United States to visit the rest of my colleagues based in Germany, it’s becoming even clearer to me that it’s imperative to get out from under email – especially for global multicultural businesses with employees from all backgrounds. Some things just can’t be fully shared or experienced from behind the screen of a smartphone or laptop.
Chances to laugh over a beer, or see a co-worker’s facial expression in real, face-to-face time as you share an idea, are invaluable opportunities to gain insight – something you will never experience via email.
So what can you do? Maybe all it takes is becoming more aware of how you interact with the friends and colleagues you already have. Try each day to do the small things – to deepen a personal connection outside of the technological sphere. Grab a coffee for a friend who’s having a bad day; make a date to go to a fitness class with a co-worker over lunch, or call up a friend you haven’t seen in years. It doesn’t take a lot, but I know from personal experience, what you get back is worth the extra effort. While ditching email for face-to-face interaction with friends and co-workers may not instantly create your Moai, it goes a long way in creating more authentic, human interactions, and in today’s world of hiding behind screens, that’s not a bad thing.
So, if you still can’t quite figure out Instagram hashtags, you very well might be considered (gasp!) uncool, but you and your friends will sure get the last laugh when you live to be 100!