Scene from movie Dazed & confused of students standing, sitting, and laying on and inside an orange convertible car

We Should Hang Out More

Movies often serve as perfect time capsules, offering snapshots of what life was like in an earlier time. Take Dazed and Confused. The movie is set in late seventies Texas and focuses on groups of high schoolers coming of age while driving around in cars, hanging out with their friends, and generally navigating that particularly angsty time of life.

The important topics of discussion, like the upcoming Aerosmith concert and Kevin’s party getting crashed before it even begins, aren’t that different from what high school kids talk about today. But, how they communicate about it all is very different. It’s all in person, face-to-face.

Contrast that with newer films like He’s All That and Not Okay. They reflect how socializing works now – via social media and apps.

So, what’s the big deal with teenagers using cell phones and apps to hang out instead of doing so on the hood of a muscle car (or more likely their mom’s station wagon)? Turns out something seriously concerning may be going on as a result.

No one wants to hang out anymore and our “social batteries” are running down.

Research indicates most people are actively making the effort to avoid social interactions on a daily basis and there is evidence that is even more true among Millennials and Gen Z who prefer to be alone and communicate online.

In her book, iGen, Jean Twenge argues that Gen Z, the generation born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, is spending less of their free time with peers in person than generations before. She cites a study that found college-bound high school seniors in the mid-2010s spent an hour less per day on in-person social interactions than kids from the late 1980s.

In Dazed and Confused, the kids’ social batteries never seemed to run out. The friends stuck together until daybreak forced them to part. But that endless energy to spend time with others in-person doesn’t seem to exist much any more.

With people spending less time together, it appears we’ve also forgotten how to act when we do socialize. A study published in the Journal of Personality found that EI, emotional intelligence, has dropped since 2019. EI refers to one’s ability to comprehend emotions in others and yourself. EI fosters empathy and our ability to connect with others. Without it, it’s difficult to understand one another.

And, who wants to hang out with people that don’t understand you?

With our social batteries running low, general social anxiety has shot up since 2020, according to a Penn State Center for Collegiate Mental Health study. People feel less self-assured in their ability to have positive interactions with others in person. Researchers say, because people don’t want to spend time together, there is an overarching struggle to form meaningful relationships. 

And it’s not new.

All the way back in 2000, political scientist Robert D. Putnam explored America’s movement towards an individualistic society in his book Bowling Alone (which was based on an essay he published in 1995).

This suggests that our escalating social disconnect predated both the pandemic and social media. The groundbreaking solution he came up with was… to be more social. Face-to-face interactions gained from being a part of a social network are priceless. Participating in a club or a sports league can stimulate emotional intelligence and enhance social skills.

Which is not to say online communication is always a bad thing. The internet has given people a chance to connect with others in a way they never could before. Relationships formed online should be encouraged as long as in-person interactions aren’t avoided.

So, all hope isn’t lost!

Social belonging and meaningful relationships are still possible along with friendships that will keep us out past curfew. So, don’t be afraid to get in trouble with your friends every once in a while!

This post was written by Marist Poll Media Team member Eve Fisher.

Photo credit: “Dazed and Confused”, Gramercy Pictures, 1993