The only constant is change, but even casual observers might recognize an acceleration in the rate of it.
“Suffice to say there’s certainly been some pretty big changes since around the time that smartphones started to become ubiquitous — 2009 or 2010,” said Dr. Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me.
As someone who has been documenting the sweeping cultural changes and differences between generations for years, Twenge is a keen observer of the seismic activity happening before our eyes. She contends that they’re happening more quickly than ever before. “Trends that were either heading in that direction are now really heading in that direction,” she told me.
It might be easy to assume that the changes are being driven by coming-of-age millennials, Twenge told me that there’s actually a significant gap between those born in the 1980s and those born in the 1990s. She calls this younger set the “iGens.” They’re adopting new technology even more rapidly than their predecessors and creating an unusual wave effect. Twenge calls it “The Time Period Effect,” which means that changes are not just impacting iGens or Millennials. “This is everybody,” she told me.
Which means we may be on the precipice of a slew of sea changes brought about by our all-consuming use of technology. If you haven’t noticed people changing the way they’re living, interacting and working, the differences will soon be inescapable. What follows is a list of life and social skills that, thanks to technology, may be, if not obsolete, holding on for dear life in 2016.
When was the last time you wrote a letter — in print or cursive? Baby Boomers, those born after World War II and up to roughly 1964, may be the last great generation of letter and note writers. Millennials and iGens were likely taught cursive in school (though many school districts have been trying to kill the instruction for years), but it’s doubtful any of them are putting it into practice outside the occasional paper they have to turn in for grade school. When we want to communicate, we type, and not just on our laptops. We’re expert smartphone thumb typers.
In 2016, I think the bells tolls for, at least, cursive writing. It will fade away and eventually be as ubiquitous in everyday life as Latin.
Addressing and mailing letters
If you’re not writing letters anymore, the process of writing the destination on an envelope might seem foreign to you. Even the most popular time of the year for snail mail is under attack. Dr. Twenge told me that last year a friend of hers said they would no longer send Christmas family photos since everyone sees them all over Facebook. Similarly, the yearly Christmas letters seem redundant in our always-sharing society.
And no, life-event mailings like wedding invitations and baby announcements are not beyond the influence of technology. They, too, are being overtaken by Facebook and electronic invite apps and services.
In 2016, letters, post cards and hand-written envelopes will sigh a last gasp and expire.
Remember when everyone took Apple to task for introducing a terrible Maps App? We were all so spoiled by the depth, utility and accuracy of Google Maps, that none of us could imagine anyone getting cartography wrong. Apple, of course, revised and significantly improved Apple Maps, but our obsession with direction delivered to us on demand and on a turn-by-turn basis means none of us are actually using maps anymore.
When you get directions from one of your favorite map apps, don’t you just look at the steps and ignore the maps? How many of use still remember what latitude and longitude means? What about the scale that usually appears on maps? You could use that to eyeball how many miles it is between your location and your destination.
Modern map apps ask nothing of you except an address. In 2016, you’ll encounter more people who have either forgotten their map skills or never had them in the first place.
Library use is on the decline. A recent Pew Research Study put Library usage for those over 16 years old at 46%, a significant drop compared to 2012, when it was at 53%. One of the more interesting stats in this study, though, was the percentage of people who go there solely to use the computers or free Wi-Fi: 27%. These are not people who are really using the library and I bet if you asked them to find a book using the old-school Dewey Decimal System, they’d look at you as if you had two volumes of The Complete Works of Shakespeare for a head.
Even those who do go to the library to find books have the benefit of a fully digital lookup system, which basically hand-holds them until they pull the book off the shelf.
We also used to visit the library to do research, but with Google and Wikipedia, who really does that anymore? It’s okay. You use Wikipedia. Admit it.
Library skills of all kinds are already atrophying and 2016 will see the expiration of that library card.
“Hello, how are you? …You’re well? That’s good. Send me a photo so I can see how you’re doing.” That would represent a pretty typical conversation between people who know each other fairly well, but never see each other in person, even if they’re sitting next to each other (I have witnessed teens texting each other from across the couch). It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, we all have a lot of conversations in text, on Facebook, on Twitter or maybe Snapchat. Seeing people and talking face-to-face is very 20th century and not very hip or cool.
For those of us who have a few decades of human-to-human conversation under our belts, this change is not particularly difficult or devastating, but for iGens and some Millennials it means they barely know how to carry on a face-to-face conversation.
However, before you jump to conclusions and say that the end of face-to-face conversation will mean the loss of the ability to read facial queues, Dr. Twenge told me that there still have been no studies showing that this is a fact. On the other hand, there is anecdotal evidence. She recalled one study where people were sent to an electronics-free camp and soon their non-verbal communication skills did improve. Yet, Dr. Twenge insists, “We need a lot more data.” Something I think she’s bound to get in 2016.
Taking photos that aren’t selfies
Our obsession with taking pictures of ourselves is so great, it inspired at least one new invention, the selfie stick, and even resulted in some deaths.
The trend toward more selfies doesn’t surprise Dr. Twenge who reminded me that newer, younger generations put a greater “emphasis on the self and less on social rules.”
Whatever the cause, selfies and all the tools available to create better selfies are not going anywhere. And as we take more pictures of ourselves, we take fewer of other people and things. In 2016, the ability to properly take pictures of things that are not ourselves – framing, composition, capturing the moment — could see a significant drop in 2016. At the very least, I expect many people to forget how to smile for a photo without making a duckface.
Patience and attention spans
We are so flooded with digital stimuli on our computers, laptops and phones and with instant access to information that we both lack the ability to wait for anything and have the attention spans of gnats.
The lack of patience has led to people angrily tapping on their iPads when a Web page doesn’t load in less than a second and wondering why Google Maps is taking so long to deliver their pre-packed directions to the mall. In 2016, the lack of patience epidemic will reach record levels.
If you have no patience, good luck actually paying attention to anything for any length of time. We have all become the dogs in Pixar’s Up. Our lives are full of squirrels to distract us from our core task. In fact, I suspect you got distracted paragraphs ago and have not bothered to read this far. I’d say my work here is done.