What does it mean to be social?

I was running a professional development session on the Flipped classroom and I asked the question “what 20th century skills are still important in today’s classroom?” One of the participants raised his hand and said, “kids today are not social. They need to learn how to look someone in the eye and have a conversation.” Being the pot stirrer that I am I immediately responded with “can a person today have a good job and be a productive member of society without being able to do that?” Some members of the group immediately exclaimed no. Others gave a ‘well, sort of.’ And some were just not sure because you sort of can in today’s world. You can literally never leave your house and still be a productive member of society.
Without leaving your home, you can:
  • order groceries online
  • work from home
  • talk with friends and family all over the world both by phone and video
  • date
  • have meals delivered
  • play games
  • buy clothing
  • have your dry clean only clothes cleaned
  • pay your bills
  • vote
  • learn a new language
More and more people are working from home and never have in-person meetings with members of their company. Or, like my sister, some start their own company in their living room and have employees that are in different states.
Typically, when we say ‘being social’ we mean to interact with other human beings that are physically near us. We fault people who are staring intently at the screen on their smartphone and are missing the world around them.
But what if they are staring at a part of the world that isn’t around them? What if they are watching a video from the ISS? Or watching their niece who lives in a different country take her first steps? Or watching their mother blow out her birthday candles when they couldn’t be there because of work commitments?
What if the world around them isn’t meaningful to them and they are trying to immerse themselves in something that is?
Another question I asked the group was this: how many of you growing up had friends that were more than 50 miles away? Zero hands. None of the 30 people in the session had friends that were more than 50 miles away from them. If I asked that of my students I guarantee that a few hands would be raised. Why? Skype, Face Time, Google Hangouts. Teenagers today are able to stay connected to their friends and family no matter where they are in the world. More and more of my students are staying together with their high school boyfriends/girlfriends after they go to college than ever before because of the ability to stay in close contact no matter where they are.
We are very quick to attack today’s youth because they don’t meet our societal norms. Maybe it’s time for society to redefine what it means to be social.

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