Opinion The Youth Issue

Are we socially doomed?

"We are definitely not doing it right."

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By Khalid Mubarak

Artwork by Saudi illustrator Nouf Alismail.

You call a friend, and they don’t pick up. They later send you a text message apologising and asking you what’s up. Sound familiar? I bet you’ve all been through similar situations. How many times have you seen memes or social media comments in which people complain about people calling instead of texting them?

The other day, I read a somewhat disturbing post that stated we—the youth—are probably the generation that put the doorbell to rest. But it’s true. Your friends would text you telling you that they are outside your home. Even my McDonald’s delivery guy texts me instead of ringing the bell!

My elder family members are alarmed by our behaviour. My grandmother constantly asks me why I am always hunched on my phone for hours. When I tell her that I’m writing to a friend, she gets so shocked and asks me why I don’t just call them instead. At first, I thought she was just being old school, but then it hit me, my phone rarely rings. My wife and I text each other instead of calling each other if we need anything. At most, we’d send each other voice notes. But then I realised that I’ve been like this with all of my friends. My call log mainly has my bank, or some service company trying to sell me something. Even my mum WhatsApp messages me!

Technology has made our lives easier, but are we socially doomed? People are live streaming their weddings and events for those who can’t make it. You can take courses and attend seminars online without having to meet your instructor. I can even visit a country and wander its streets from the comfort of my sofa, thanks to Google Street View. But is this necessarily better for us? An article published by the Harvard Business Review, states that in the last 50 years, rates of loneliness have doubled in the United States, and that people who spent longer times on social media experienced more loneliness than those who spent less.

I am witnessing the difference in social interactions in my family alone. While my wife and I would text message a sick friend wishing them well, my grandmother would drive to see them, bring some soup and ensure they are all right. Depending on their illness, she would visit them again, or would at least call and check up on them. If there was a funeral, no matter where it was, she would be there for the three days of the event. She would really be there for the family.

When I fell seriously ill a while back, most of my friends WhatsApp messaged me to see if I was fine, and I received gifts that were ordered online and sent via courier. Only a handful were really there for me, and made the effort to come see me at my home.

This has led me to think: how will our next generation be? Nowadays, people propose via text messages, and I read stories of people divorcing via those too. We are definitely not doing it right.

I don’t want to be this kind of role model that my children grow up to see. I want to be the role model that my parents and their parents were to me, that I somehow drifted from in the last few years as I got sucked in this social media blackhole.

I want to really be there for my friends and family. I want to really be there for those who are sick, and I want to text less and be physically there more.

Will my move and commitment to old ways of doing things make our reality any different? Maybe not for everyone, but at least it will for my small family, and hopefully for my children’s future as well. After all, it’s small ripples that cause waves.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees, and affiliates.

Khalid Mubarak is a rising Kuwaiti social commentator.?