June 17, 2020

Teenagers no longer phone addicts in public places: short-term pendulum swing, or long-term shift out of cocooning?

It didn't hit me until after I'd gotten back home, but during my walk around the park today I don't think I saw anyone staring down at a phone. Must've been one or two, but not the ubiquitous pattern that it used to be. The only place with lots of phones out was a baseball game where the parents were taking pictures or video of the game, not browsing an endless stream of "content" to distract themselves from what was going on around them.

What was really striking was the lack of phones among young people. Boomers not endlessly scrolling some retarded feed -- OK, the technology came too late for them to adopt it. But the teenage Zoomers who are internet / digital / social media / smartphone natives? Highly unexpected. And it wasn't just at the park -- it was the same with every small group of them walking down the sidewalks along the streets I drove on. Or hanging out in front of an ice cream parlor. Or really anywhere else.

They were talking to each other while sustaining eye contact (not while staring down at separate screens), observing and commenting on the goings-on around them, making eye contact with the random hot guy walking by, and all those other things that "kids used to do outside before smartphones and the internet".

How long ago was it that everyone was complaining about young people staring down at screens all the time? Well I did plenty of that, so I searched the blog and found out that it was around 2013 to 2015, which means it had already gotten started before then for me to have griped about it, maybe back to 2010. The worst I recall was seeing people with their laptops out at a park, and signs posted all around cheerfully letting people know that there was free wi-fi -- at a park.

Nor could you watch a movie with friends or family, without most of them staring down at a screen and often nodding off out of boredom. Way to strengthen social bonds through shared activities!

Even before smartphones, I remember young people constantly looking at and using their flip phones in the late 2000s -- at bars and dance clubs, coffee shops, the college dining hall, really anywhere that was supposed to be social, not to mention in other places like class.

The late 2010s are more blurry for my recollection, partly because everyone had been so hunkered down during the vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, there were so few observations of the public to be made. I don't remember feeling this vivid of an impression, though, that phone addiction -- at least in public or social places -- had started to decline.

So what accounts for this shift?

One possibility is the phases of the 15-year excitement cycle. You'd think it should be inversely correlated with energy levels -- higher energy and invincibility, less need for retreating into the cyber-world -- but if anything it is positively correlated with them. Phone addiction was pretty bad during the last restless phase of the late 2000s, and was rampant during the manic phase of the early 2010s, before becoming less bad by the late 2010s. So maybe the phone addicts were directing their high energy levels into texting, scrolling, etc., and are doing so less now because their energy levels are a lot lower than they were 10 years ago.

I don't buy this one, though, because phone addiction should be dropping across the board since energy levels have plummeted across the board. And yet phone addiction does seem to still be a very real problem, just not with the people I'm observing -- crucially, the age groups. It seems like people in their late 20s and 30s are still heavily addicted to scrolling through their various retarded feeds and timelines, using it to supplement their SSRIs without having to fork over a co-payment to Big Pharma (only forking over their life-data to Big Tech).

That suggests another possibility -- generational turnover. Back in the late 2000s, it was Millennials who were constantly looking down at their phones as teenagers, and it was still them in the 2010s when they were aging into their 20s, and they're still the worst even as they approach or already pass the big 3-0. Gen X-ers, especially the later ones, have had cell phones and smart phones throughout that entire time, yet they have never been as addicted to them as Millennials.

But under the view that technology or any kind of progress only ever moves in one direction, the Zoomers ought to be worse than the Millennials. I just don't see that, particularly those born later into the 2000s. (My strict definition of Gen Z would begin at 2005 births, and Millennials at 1985.) If anything, Gen Z seems to resemble Gen X in a kind of swinging pendulum pattern. One generation is attention-craving, they over-saturate the niche for it, so the next generation becomes attention-eschewing, they over-saturate that new niche, so it swings back to attention-craving, and so on.

Side note: it's also uncanny to see how much the Zoomers are dressing like it's the early '90s Gen X heyday all over again. High-waisted pants, ripped jeans, baggy shirts, light / desaturated / pastel colors, center part in the hair, etc. Not at all what the Millennials looked like as youngsters 10-15 years ago -- low-rise, dark-blue, non-ripped skinny jeans, bold color on top, heavy side part in the hair (whether preppy guys or scene girls).

This seems plausible given the Zoomers overall social media usage. They're not engaged with Facebook, Instagram is for older lifestyle hustlers, and nobody born after 2004 will ever GAF about the tard chat du jour on Twitter. Those are the platforms where attention-craving Millennials go for likes and followers.

TikTok and certain YouTube channels (like React) are more their thing, and that is just passive entertainment rather than putting your own thoughts, feelings, images, and videos out there. Maybe entering the chat of a video game streamer, or playing video games themselves. But not so much smartphone-based social media platforms.

That wouldn't mean they are unplugging from the internet, or even using it in non-parasocial ways. Maybe they'll just retreat into playing video games with strangers, which would be parasocial and very-online. But it would not leave the house with them because screaming about how laggy your connection is, is not a behavior anyone would do in public. And phones aren't the best platform for video games. So when they did go out in public, they'd be less tethered to their phones or the internet, although they'd bury themselves in online video games once they got back home.

The final possibility is that this is a broad signal of leaving their cocoons, and that the cocooning era since roughly 1990 is about to reverse and go back to outgoing like it was from roughly 1960 to 1990. The previous cocooning period was the Midcentury, from roughly 1930 to 1960, and the previous outgoing phase before that from roughly 1890 or 1900 to 1930.

This all parallels the trends in crime rates, as I detailed at length on this blog in the early 2010s (along with extensive discussion on the cultural output of outgoing vs. cocooning periods). Briefly, it's akin to a predator-prey cycle in ecology. When people are more outgoing and trusting, they present more opportunities for criminals to prey on, sending up the crime rate. When the crime rate gets so high, it erodes trust and people begin cocooning to avoid omnipresent criminals, depriving them of so many opportunities, and sending down the crime rate. When the crime rate reaches such lows, people see so few predators around, so trust and outgoing-ness increases. That then presents more prey for criminals, and the crime rate rises again, completing the cycle.

Since these phases last around 30 years in each direction, we're due for another reversal (2020 is 30 years after the last peak of crime rates circa 1990).

If this is what's going on, why are Zoomers leading the way, rather than every generation taking part at the same time and to the same degree? Because of formative experiences that differ over the generations. Late Boomers and all Gen X-ers grew up during the last crime wave, so they've imprinted on an environment marked by danger and predation. They have been helicopter parents, trying to prevent their kids from suffering through the same widespread crime that they themselves lived through.

But Millennials have only grown up during falling-crime times, so they are less helicopter-parenting. And Zoomers have grown up in even safer times than that -- they don't even remember the one-time externally caused spectacle of 9/11, like Millennials do. So they won't feel, on a visceral level, what the point is to cocooning away in the home all day long, or why you should put your guard up in public when you do go out. The dangers of going out in public, and letting your guard down, have been receding for a decade or more before they were even born.

We couldn't see this shift before because this critical generation was only 5 or 10 years old, when their public appearance is controlled by their parents. Now that they're 15-20, they're more independent and can go outside if they want, and ditch their smartphone in public if they want.

It's still too early to tell one way or another, but there does seem to be a generational change at least. The only question -- also too early to tell, by a few years -- is whether that is merely a pendulum swinging that will revert to the Millennial-esque mode in the next generation after Zoomers, or this is just the start of a 30-year period of outgoing and guard-down social behavior, to be paired with steadily rising crime rates.


  1. One thing I've noticed are girls saying "hiiiii"(drawn out) or just "hi" in a tentative, ironic way. As if they feel "Wow, I'm actually greeting a stranger in public!"

  2. A hint that it's a real change in preferences is that they didn't seem de-toxing, suffering through withdrawal, or showing other symptoms that you'd expect if they were so addicted to phones (at least in public).

    If Millennials lost their phones in public -- through individual determination, parents cutting them off, or a temporary loss of the phone -- they would look listless and anxious. They wouldn't be able to get involved socially, or devote their attention to their surroundings.

    But the Zoomers were holding conversations while walking, including the occasional head-turn to the side; sitting in a circle and talking / laughing; huddling on a bench making observations and commenting on how cute some dog was, etc.; sitting face-to-face on a bench in give-and-take confession-talking; and so on and so forth.

    It really was strange getting checked out by girls, without them partially hiding behind a screen. Before, they would've had a phone out, and stolen a glance, or looked up from it at the last moment, or just veered in your direction to brush physically close by while still not looking up at you. Or they would've had their laptop out for the same purpose, if you and they were lounging around rather than moving.

    Not that undivided attention was entirely absent 5-10-15 years ago, but I haven't felt that much undistracted attention outside of a nightlife setting since high school or college (late '90s, early 2000s).

    It's definitely working the girls up more, too. It's more of a risk to take when you don't have plausible deniability ("oh, er, um, I was just looking up from my screen and you happened to be in my line of sight"). Nope: you were looking from 20 feet away, checking back in on and off, right through a stare out of the side of your eyes as we passed each other. Their eyes are opened wider, not just because they aren't looking down, but because it's a greater thrill when it's unmediated and putting-it-out-there.

    Same with their smiling, giggling, and laughing. There's plausible deniability when you're looking at a screen -- "oh, er, um, I'm just laughing at a funny text / post, and you happened to be nearby". Nope: you were smiling at me, and giggling with your friends to boost the signal for my radar to home in on.

    If this happens to you in public (and it will not for most), just be sure to reward them by looking back, smiling back, etc. If they get consistently shut off after taking the risk, they won't take it anymore, and they'll revert to being screen-staring cocooners.

  3. If we are entering a rising crime period it should look more like the mid 19th century one that happened in the middle of a high inequality period rather than the early 20th century one(happened when inequality was but falling) or the late 20th century(mostly during low inequality but rising at the end). When looking at crime rates one needs to look for an across the board increase rather than looking at national stats, crime spiked between 2014 and 2016 but it only happened in large cities where there was conflict between blacks and police while crime in other areas was flat.

  4. It'll be interesting to see if right-wingers have grown a brain on crime rate drivers, when the next wave happens.

    In the same way that leftoids reduce class to race, conservatards reduce crime to race. They were happy to point out that the blip in the mid-2010s was just due to violent dark-skins in a handful of cities, implication being what a wonderful and safe society we'd have if it weren't for those pesky blacks.

    But then you do the same thing for the last crime wave, showing how it was across the board, and it short-circuits their retarded racial obsession. That's why I was (thankfully) never listed on those lists or info-webs of the Alt-Right, neoreactionary-sphere, etc. I relentlessly detailed how wrong and retardedly ideological they were on the causes of crime waves, which is a third rail for conservatards, especially in the punitive neoliberal era that began with Reagan. You might as well be a card-carrying commie.

    Crime rates rose in every state for decades -- even ones with zero blacks, like Utah, Maine, Alaska, etc. And it struck suburban and rural areas as well as urban areas -- steadily rising trend, even if the peak was obviously lower than for cities. So much for white-flight suburbs and farmland being safe from a rising crime rate.

    There was nowhere to run to, and nowhere to hide. That's why the entire society was in the mood they were in for so long -- it defied the simple answer of "urban blacks are wilin' out again". It humbled the entire nation, and made them feel like some great big Evil had begun to spread and grow.

    I don't know if you could make Twin Peaks these days, for example. The audience wouldn't buy the idea of there being a serial killer / rapist in a remote all-white small town.

    Even liberals would not believe it -- they too believe that all crime is committed by non-whites in cities, but just disagree on why that is, or what ought to be done about it. Look at how invisible the opioid epidemic still is to the liberals -- they just know that drug plagues only strike urban non-whites, just disagreeing with conservatives on why that is and how to treat it.

    It'll take a nationwide rising crime rate to remind or reveal for the first time, about the true nature of crime.

  5. To clarify, I'm not cherry-picking this one trip. It's been this way on other recent visits and drives, but this time made it click because there were so many groups there at the same time, all without a phone in sight and engaged in eye-contact, body language, and conversation.

    A few years ago, 5-10, I don't know how many exactly, that would've stood out. Now what stands out is the girl staring down at a phone while walking, absorbed in the fake gay cyber-world rather than her surroundings.

    And to emphasize, they used to be this way in the late 2000s with texting, before smartphones and before social media, feeds, likes, etc. They were jonesing for a dopamine hit with every vibration or ringtone, letting them know someone was texting them. Then reading the text. Then crafting the response. Then waiting for the other person's response. And so on and so forth.

    No different from post notifications, DMs, or AIM before all of that.

    Back then, there was still an epidemic of rude phone behavior in public, giving your attention only to the phone in search of digitized social validation -- rather than the analog, IRL social validation from the people sitting in front of you trying to interact.

    Trying to talk to someone over a meal, and their phone keeps going off -- you had to tell them to just put it away, or even take it from them. Merely leaving it on the table wouldn't do -- they'd stare at it when it vibrated, and you could see the anxious compulsion about to erupt if they didn't open it up to get their little notification dopamine burst.

    They were such attention-cravers, the Millennials. And still are. Teenagers today are not like that (at least in public, when others deserving of their attention are present).

  6. What do you think of Turchin's latest forecast?:


  7. To complete the thought on crime wave causes, there's the flipside -- causes of declines in crime. You can remind the conservatards that there was a falling-crime period from roughly 1930 to 1960, after rising from 1890 or 1900 to 1930.

    Generality calls for the fewest number of causes proposed, and the best fit to the entirety of the data (not just one interval).

    So, whatever the right-wingers propose for the decline since the '90s -- invariably, the punitive neoliberal policies -- just remind them that crime fell off a cliff during the '30s through the '50s, without a skyrocketing incarceration rate, harsh sentences, or overall punitive rather than restorative attitude. It was the New Deal, not neoliberalism.

    Plus, those neolib punitive policies were incubating in the '70s (like the return of the death penalty), and were in full force throughout the Reaganite and Thatcherite '80s. And yet, no decline in crime, which continued to soar.

    Normal people, unaddled by ideology, understood this at the time -- "Goddamn, we threw all the punitive right-wing harshness we could at the problem, and it's doing absolutely nothing! This must be a supernatural level of Evil."

    But conservatards to this day will deny the utter impotence of those punitive policies in the '80s and early '90s. They only mention those policies from the '90s and after (like the crime bill that Biden signed), to argue for their cause of the decline.

    But punitive policies are neither necessary for falling crime -- see the '30s through '50s -- nor are they sufficient -- see the end of the '70s and the '80s. They are totally uncorrelated -- which deflates one particular liberal moronic idea, that punitive policies would boomerang and cause crime rates to *rise*. But most libs don't hold that idea, whereas most cons do believe that harsh crackdowns are one-to-one with falling-crime.

    If you want to alienate your conservatard readers in service of honesty and truth, go ahead and point these out -- let alone, over and over in gory detail. It's good for weeding out the dumb ones, though.

    What does punitive crime policy correlate with? Why, laissez-faire economics, rising inequality, over-production of elites, immiseration of the working class, political polarization, and all that other Gilded Age and neo-Gilded Age garbage. Victorian workhouses, debtors' prisons, and public executions -- all ended under the New Deal / Social Dem midcentury.

    And all returning since 1980 in barely disguised forms, with some states (including Minnesota, if memory serves) allowing the police to detain / arrest people who haven't paid their credit card debt, and only let them go once they've resumed making payments.

    Remember, we're only in the 1850s part of the cycle -- give it another few decades, and we'll have literal debtors' prisons back in full force.

  8. Michael Tracey confirmed for ass man (we stan). Pic:


    I wonder if corporeal people are more likely to protest / demonstrate / riot in person, and cerebrals more likely to wreak havoc verbally online.

    Would imply more ass men and women showing up to IRL protests (we already know that online political junkies are boob men and women).

  9. Youngun Millenial6/28/20, 9:49 PM

    As a millennial who was a youngster 10-15 years, I'll just say that ripped jeans were very much in vogue then. In fact I'm surprised they're still popular, I would have thought they would have died off by now...


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