Better Technology, HOrrible Connection: Transcript

ACTOR: No matter how long your Facebook friends list is we still seem to be so friendless. We tend to measure self worth by numbers of followers and likes. We live in a generation where we can’t speak without abbreviation. All this wrong we have we can fix but this time we can’t use auto correct.

[Theme Music]

YVONNE: This is Mouthful and I am Yvonne Latty. Every week I will be having a complicated conversation with a young person about the things that matter to them, things they have written about and shared on stages across the city. And then we will go out into the community and talk to teens, adults, experts anyone who can broaden the conversation.

You know what is driving me crazy...what hurts my feelings? The fact that my teenage daughters are more interested in their iPhones than me.

Yep. I  know this is how it goes, all parents are going through the same thing, friends are way more interesting than boring parents.  

Yeah, yeah...I know. But the constant selfies that feed into Snapchat and Instagram...  The “Finsta” they blocked me from.. These weird Snapchat photos with dog faces and flower crowns, bulging eyes… oh man.  

Now I know I sound like an old lady when I say, I often wonder where is this generation heading.

But to be honest. I am always on my phone, too. I pride myself on responding to emails and texts quickly. I am on Facebook and Twitter way too much. I say to myself it is very much work-related, but I do love seeing what my “friends” are up to. And I love when my posts get lots of likes...

It’s like we are all addicted…

So when I heard “Better Technology, Horrible Connection” by Brandon Dejesus of Esperanza Academy Charter School in North Philly I thought: it really doesn’t matter who you are: technology, social media, all of it has really changed everything. For better and for worse.

Let’s listen to "Better Technology, Horrible Connection" performed by Abdul Sesay.

ACTOR: You know the average person spends eight hours a day on their cell phone. You see the networks and social media are suppose to get us connected but connection hasn’t got any better. It’s kind of ironic that these touch screens can make us, lose touch. iPad, iPhone, iMac and selfies, so many I’s and not enough us’s and we’s. No matter how long your facebook friends list is we still seem to be so friendless. We tend to measure self worth by numbers of followers and likes. We live in a generation where we can’t speak without abbreviation. All this wrong we have we can fix but this time we can’t use auto correct. Relationships are needed in times like these...

But mines with you isn’t working. This technology has ruined our life, can’t you see that. I come home from work exhausted, hoping to see you excited to see me instead you don’t notice I’m there. You continue to be occupied with your phone. Our dinner nights, movie nights, even when we brush our teeth you're on that thing. I have to consistently compete with your phone and ..and I’m sick and tired of it! What does that thing do for you that I can’t possibly do? You smile at your phone more than you smile at me. You giggle at your phone even when we argue, you’re telling me you don’t see it’s ruining this relationship? It’s not important to you, are you serious? I’ve accepted your late nights out with your girls and your long bingo nights with your mother and grandmother but at our home Jessica, our only place that is just for me and you to embrace each other...your eyes are glued to your phone. My phone is a big part of my life too, but somehow I manage to show you my full attention. Just why can’t you? This technology has changed you. I’m not sure this is a change I can accept.

YVONNE: Mouthful Producer Mitchell Bloom, stacked some pizzas on the back of his bike and headed over to the Academy at Palumbo in South Philadelphia, to see what seven teens thought of the monologue and to find out what kind of role their beloved phones play in their lives. And they did some schooling. They explained what a Snapchat streak is...

Student: It's Snapchatting a person every day and it's like a little fire thing that pops up and it shows you how long you've been doing that.

Mitchell: Do you know how long your longest streak has been?

Student: Um, my longest streak... I think... 300 days.

YVONNE: And Finsta...

Student: Because a lot of people get their feelings hurt on Instagram, so I just have my Finsta for my friends and I rant and I just post whatever I feel and I post memes and stuff. Also my family follows me on my Instagram, so I could like post basically whatever I want on my Finsta. My regular Instagram is just for like... I don't for like regular stuff I guess.

YVONNE: And then Mitchell asked the big question.

Mitchell: What did you think of the monologue?

Student: It conveyed a really big message about how no one pays attention to each other anymore and we miss a lot of big things in each other’s lives because we’re so caught up in things that aren’t important.

Mitchell: In the beginning of the monologue he says that people spend an average of 8 hours a day on their cell phone. How many hours a day do you think you spend on your cell phone?

Student: I spend much more than 8 hours on my cellphone I think at least 12 hours on my cellphone because the first thing that I pick up or look at is my cellphone because it’s usually charging in the outlet next to my bed. And I'm usually looking at that and sometimes it’s my cellphone that’s gotten me late for school sometimes because usually when I should be showering or brushing my teeth I’m in my room on my phone and texting and checking texts and stuff like that, so yeah I spend almost a day, like even today in school like when I wasn’t really doing anything else I was just on my phone, so. To the point now where I bring a charger with me, so it doesn’t die on me and I can just, it stays on for as long as possible.

Student: And we just watched a performance and I noticed that instead of watching the performance a lot of people were actually on their phones texting and stuff and not paying attention. I actually was one of those people. So.

YVONNE: The students are big fans of Snapchat and Instagram. It's a tool for expressing themselves.

Student: So, my social media is pretty much me being conceited. It’s pretty much every picture on my Instagram is of me. And there may be one or two of me and my my siblings or my family. And I don’t really publicize how I feel or what I’m going through, I know a lot of people who will post pictures of them at like “Oh, RIP, my younger cousin may have passed” or people who will say “I just broke up with my boyfriend,” and I’m like I don’t understand how you can just put everything that you’re going through on social media, especially nowadays because it’s no longer you just keeping in contact with your friends, there are a majority of people who have so many followers who are complete strangers, and they have no problem with making their entire lives open to people they don’t know.  

Student: Well, um I have a really hard time expressing my feelings, and I think part of that is due to social media. Like you don’t talk to other people say like if there was no social media, back in like, I guess the 90s and 80s and stuff [laughter] I think people talk to one another more, so um, for me like I said my spam I get to ...I don’t share everything of course, but sometimes if I’m feeling down I’ll say like “oh you know today was a bad day” and like a friend maybe will come and like “you know what’s wrong what happened?” I guess that helps me open up to another person more, so.

YVONNE: And social media is a place where conflicts arise and friendships can end.

Student: We don’t really ever really get together and sit down and actually talk... all of our conflicts and stuff are usually on social media, so I think that does affect relationships.

YVONNE: I told Mitchell to be sure to ask about parents because like I said, I struggle with all of this.

Mitchell: What do your parents think or your caretakers and guardians, what do they think about any of it? Social media, technology, how much time you spend on your phone, do they get on your case about this or that? How does that work?

Student: My mom really doesn’t mind because she’s always on her phone also. So like she like was on like Snapchat and she was like: “Yeah I post my videos and stuff” and me and my sister were like: “You don’t have any friends, so…” but we still help her. Like she’s gained quite a few friends. She doesn’t really mind us though on social media because she does it too.

Mitchell: Do you follow your mom on Snapchat?

Student: No. [laughter]

Student: Um, my mom also uses Facebook a lot and um a couple of months ago she was like “Oh yeah did you see my friend request I sent you?” And I was like: “No, I haven’t seen it…” and I actually didn’t see it, um, and like growing up she used MySpace a lot she even had her nice little purple layout I remember and she told me like “yeah you have to wait until you can use this” so I was just like: okay it’s whatever. And now I guess she’s trying to get more involved in the social media scene because like Facebook is pretty the only social media she actually uses now and I guess she uses it to catch up with friends and stuff, and it’s really interesting to see you know how she interacts and just parents in general. Sometimes I’ll go on and look and see what she’s doing. [laughs] Just me being nosy..

Mitchell: Social media and technology: good or bad? And why?

Student: I think that social media has its perks and it also has its negative effects, but um, I know in general for a lot of people, they don’t want to cause any harm when they go on social media—except like trolls and stuff—and I mean people do start fights on social media, you know I guess it’s just that person, it’s not the social media itself that’s bad but it’s the people that go on it, and you know, I mean, you can’t really tell if it’s good or bad, it’s just the people. So.

Student: Um, I think social media is actually great, but um, it’s like when people start injecting the high levels of dopamine when like you get those followers and those likes it brings you happiness.

YVONNE: From one set of experts to another expert. Mitchell and I sat down with Stephanie Humphrey, “tech expert,” for another perspective. Stephanie is a technology contributor to a number of media outlets including the Harry Show with Harry Connick, Jr. Stephanie also teaches a seminar called ‘Til Death Do You Tweet which helps students understand the consequences of their online behavior, especially social media.

Stephanie: I am your friendly neighborhood tech life expert so I basically show people how technology makes their life easier and I do that through a variety of media platforms.

Yvonne: Well I guess I’m gonna use you today as a therapist. Because I have a lot of questions. I don’t understand. Like, what what is it with kids and social media?

Stephanie: It’s a tool. It’s a tool. I think the overarching thing that parents and adults need to understand is that nothing has really changed about the way that kids interact with each other on a fundamental level. They just have better tools than we did back in the day if you will. Um, so they can instantaneously reach friends whereas we may have had to walk around the corner and down the street and over the river and through the woods to get to someone else’s house, they can reach them instantaneously. They can reach a broader scope of young people because they can be talking to somebody across the street or around the world, so the tools are different, but the methodologies of communication have not changed at all.

Yvonne: Do you think that kids socializing and interacting so much on social media is healthy?

Stephanie: I think too much of anything is a bad thing. Everything in moderation. I think there is a need for in person communications I think a lot of young people have lost the ability to actually interact face to face with other people. There’s a difference between typing a text message with all emojis and LOL, JK, you know TBH and actually having a conversation with someone, so um I think there can be a situation where it’s too much. I think that’s where the parents and educators and other adults come in to help them understand what that means, too much.

Yvonne: But if you try having a conversation with a teenager and saying "you’re on social media too much" they look at you and say well you’re on it, too.

Stephanie: Well, the conversation is not to try to regulate what they do. Um I have a seminar called Til Death Do You Tweet where I help young people the consequences of their online behavior, and I help parents as well. The conversation is not that you should not be on social media, or you’re on too much or you’re doing this or you’re doing that, the conversation uh what I’ve found works for me in helping me reach kids is that this is a part of your overall brand. That’s a word that kind of gets tossed around a lot these days but it’s true. We are all because we have these online presences creating this brand for ourselves through what we do on the internet. And it’s up to you as an individual no matter what your age is no matter what you do no matter whether you think you have a responsibility to your brand or not it’s up to you to manage that.

Yvonne: But do you think sometimes that this whole idea of branding or creating this sort of narrative about their life doesn’t ring true because what I’ve seen with a lot of kids and social media is like everyone’s having the best time, everybody looks fabulous, everybody’s friends with everyone and it’s come to the point where in Snapchat if you’re not invited to a party you can see the party being Snapchatted and so, I don’t even know if that’s the right word Snapchatted, I don’t think that’s the right word, you could see the story on Snapchat, and then you automatically feel left out it’s almost a way of excluding certain kids, it’s a way of just I think of creating a narrative about your life that’s not really true…

Stephanie: That’s actually correct. And that’s a problem with social media and that’s a problem with social media and mental health. And I’m not a mental health professional, but there have been tons of studies that link social media to depression because people do have that whole FOMO, fear of missing out thing, where they’re watching these lives, you know, unfold in this fabulous way with all these great filters and everything else and again that’s our responsibility as adults is to help children understand that we don’t always do the best job ourselves because we’re putting carefully curated images of ourselves and our stories and our lives out there as well, but I think that’s our job as adults to help young people understand that it is just a subset. 

Yvonne: In the monologue, it basically discusses a relationship that started out promising obviously but ended or was coming to an end because one of the people in the relationship couldn’t get off social media.

Stephanie: I think is one of the risks that you lose the ability to interact in person. I mean there are actually a lot stories coming out of especially South Korea about people that spend you know days in cafes and their children starve to death and different things like that and I think that we’re going to see, we’ve already seen a lot of digital addiction treatment start popping up because it is a thing. And studies have been done where you know these developers makes these networks the same way that they do gambling, you know there’s things rewards that you get that hit that dopamine center in your brain that keep you on longer and there’s different psychological tools that they use to engage you for a longer time. So we’re gonna start to see a lot more I think of that digital addiction concept um because that’s kind of human nature but I hope we’ll also see some backlash to the developers of these networks as well to um do some things and there already are some things happening I think there’s a body petitioning like Facebook and Twitter to have pop up windows that say hey you’ve been on for two hours maybe it’s time to take a break and stuff like that just to help people be aware of just how much they’re using it and maybe that they should just put the phone down.

Yvonne: Do you have any advice for parents who because of their jobs and because of their own busy lives are always on social media or checking email how to be better role models for their kids?

Stephanie: You have to keep that communication going you know at the end of the day you are still your child’s best and first line of defense when it comes to this, or anything really. Learning about life. So you gotta keep that conversation going. Maybe there’s a rule in the house that dinnertime is device free maybe there’s a basket in the middle of the table and everybody has to put their phones in there… you know it sounds corny but those are the types of things you have to do, and you really just have to make that effort to engage that young person in a non-digital way, so you know Saturdays is the day at the museum with no phones or find some sort of commonality or something that they’re interested in that we do on Thursday nights, or you know game night is Friday, so it really becomes incumbent on the parent to figure out those times and to be the parent, honestly and to say you know what today we’re not using our phones.

Mitchell: What comes to mind what is the best use of social media you’ve ever seen, something that just blew you away, like wow this is how you use social media for good or for you fill in the blank, you know?

Stephanie: Right, right. I mean I love all the challenges, I think they raise awareness like the ice bucket challenge well not necessarily the bad challenges but those challenges that raise awareness for causes are great. I actually love what the quote unquote YouTube stars are doing I think that’s a you know well depending on content but I think overall it’s a great example of how you can use social media to you know make some money and kind of brand yourself again, and I think when it’s done right and well you know the top ten YouTubers last year were all under 24 and they made like 64 million dollars combined, and like when you look at the little boy I can’t remember the little boy’s name but he does unboxing videos on YouTube and he’s wildly popular, my nieces love him. That’s where you see kind of you know the best of social media—when it’s being used to educate when it’s being used to help and sometimes when it’s being used to entertain as well. And also the whole Arab Spring, political movements, you know hashtag activism has become a thing that has become very effective actually so you know it definitely has its uses and there have definitely been some very positive outcomes.

Mitchell: Has how our President uses Twitter infiltrated how you engage with it in your work you know if you’re talking about what you put on Twitter you have to be accountable for I mean it really has reached an apex I feel like in this moment. I mean here we are: the most powerful person in the world just goes on and just spews things out and sometimes it’s like well wait what’s the policy did that just change this and who did that and it almost just becomes noise in a way that I think is new recently…

Stephanie: Oh yeah, totally unprecedented. And it’s going to make my job a lot harder when I talk to young people who can say well the president does it, um, so yeah it’s again totally unprecedented the way that these networks are being utilized today um I don’t know I mean I think there still is an argument to be made for responsibility because you know Trump has his supporters, but I think by and large most people you know don’t have the most positive opinion of him, so...

YVONNE: It turns out that 4 am is not exclusively our President’s prime Twitter window. Just after midnight on the day we interviewed Stephanie, Trump tweeted the infamous “covfefe” tweet, which turned into a hundred different memes by morning. The power and pitfalls of social media.

And that's our show. 

[Theme Music]

Thanks to Brandon Dejesus for sharing his monologue Better Technology, Horrible Connection.

The monologue was performed by Abdul Sesay.

Thanks to Anissa Weinraub and the teens of Palumbo Academy in Bella Vista, South Philadelphia for a great conversation.

And Stephanie Humphrey for the tech therapy.

I’m really excited to announce that Mouthful will be included in the 5th Annual Philadelphia Podcast Festival. Visit for more information about the Festival and to see all of the other scheduled programming!

See you next time.