Listen to episode #45 for an examination of current first-world social interaction as it relates to the term “Social Necessity.”
People “hang out” less than they used to. I remember when my family first moved into the neighborhood 12 years ago. Within the first week of our relocation, a kid from down the street came knocking on my door with an offer. He wanted to “hang out.”
So, with sweaty palms and shaky knees, I followed him – albeit, mostly because the boy had said, “my mom just made chocolate chip cookies.”
Even today, social interaction gives me the same sweaty palms and shaky knees it did the week we moved. Only instead of seeking chocolate chip cookies to “hang out”, I now rely on the promise of alcohol or free food to transcend that sweaty resistance and go out on Friday nights.
“I have Netflix and GrubHub … where’s the necessity to make new friends that I had 12 years ago?”
At the boy’s house, we ate his mother’s cookies. And before long, a gaggle of other neighborhood kids showed up, all older and more familiar with this “hang out” process. They enjoyed a treat and talked, but under the oldest boy’s direction, we quickly got to the core of why we were there: Flag Football. I had played football at recess, but on such occasions, our teams were formed of same-aged competitors. So, the idea of playing with the “big boys” wigged me out, and I grew increasingly anxious, despite their congenial attitudes.
“Seeehhhhhttt…. Blue 42… hike!”
My hands were still sweaty, but on the first play, I was dodging tackles and snagging passes. There was nothing to fear except grass stained shorts, yet it took years (years!) of playing football with the same boys for that anxiety to eventually wear off.
I have many theories why this uneasiness still occurs, but the most promising lead stems from a lack in social necessity.
An example. If I stumble upon a mechanical issue with my lawnmower, I no longer have to ask my handyman neighbor for help. Instead, I flip open YouTube and search for an on-the-spot answer. Never during the process did I have to leave my couch or talk to another human being. The necessity to be social has almost disappeared. Of course, it is a personal choice to use YouTube, but when the less social option exists, I will normally at least try and solve the problem myself using the internet before asking someone else.
Which brings me to a crucial question: With increasingly realistic forms of artificial stimulation, do kids still play self-organized football after school?
The BBC reports that between required school work, and after-school leisure, kids spend between 5-8 hours in front of a screen per day. The shocking stats are the result of a young brain searching for a way to spend its time in the least resistive manner.
In fairness, the culprits – such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Fortnite – each contribute to anxiety in their own complex manner. But at the end of the day, what’s gone missing overall is the social necessity.
Today, kids can get the same satisfaction of a “stimulating” afternoon without ever looking another human in the eyes – without ever facing the resistance – which leaves in-person “hang-outs” to days when a parent (uncomfortably) forces their child to interact socially.
Why suffer through those sweaty palms and shaky knees, when an X-BOX provides a similarly satisfying, albeit artificial, stimulation?
Fortunately, the growing gap in social interaction can be filled by something as easy as and going for a stick-tossing walk in the woods with the neighbor kids.
What I am worried about is a future when the kids, who are now on their phones for 8 hours a day, have kids. If I needed chocolate chip cookies to play flag-football with a neighbor, what will my kids need to leave their bedrooms?