"There's a silent epidemic making the rounds at my college," writes Charlotte Steinway. And it can't be treated with a pill, because it's "fauxting," wherein people pretending to be engaged with technology to avoid social interaction.
What horrified me the most was that by the end of September, I was right there with them, pretending I didn't recognize the kid whose Facebook page told me he too likes TV on the Radio and Ratatat. And I was clutching my phone with a severity of object attachment I hadn't felt since the days of the pacifier. In an age where hookups, breakups, and makeups are increasingly initiated via text or online, the social dynamic of face-to-face interactions has changed drastically and in some cases disappeared entirely.
Of course, using technology as a crutch is as old as the cellphone — a phenomenon the "Styles" section highlighted back in the oughts. For the shy, the awkward, the antisocial, the stood-up, the merely bored, she who doesn't-want-to-acknowledge-the-guy-she-thought-was-gay-and-ended-up-on-a-date-with, pretending to have someone interested in talking to you is an obvious solution. However, while faking a one-sided call requires some acting chops or chutzpah and runs the risk of being exposed by an actual ringtone, texting - or just twiddling with some keys — is within everyone's power.
That said, I do think this is a phenomenon of the younger generation. When I was in college, we just ignored each other — and there wasn't the added weirdness of "knowing" someone online and not, as the kids say, IRL. Katy, a recent college grad, confirmed that she's familiar with campus avoidance: "This was something people complained about a lot at my college, too," she says. "Especially the 'no eye contact.'"
Steinway neatly sums up the problem: "the tragic, isolating thing is that we reach for our devices because we don't want to seem lonely — which is causing us to avoid our peers and actually be lonely." And it's true - this kind of thing does no one any favors. That said, I want to reassure Steinway that there's nothing in adult later life comparable in awkwardness to these campus-meets. (Or, at least, nothing as frequent.) I imagine the panic of seeing a sorta-acquaintance who maybe a friend dated briefly appearing twenty feet away on some path and deciding whether to interact is pretty much as old as higher education. Later, there are more corners to duck around. And you don't see them again the next day. And if you do, well, you just take a later subway.
Image via I Can Has Cheezburger