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ROBB JEFFRIES: Put down your smartphone and talk to someone

Robb Jeffries

When he was 13, my best friend’s grandfather took over farming operations on his family’s land in western North Dakota.

When I was 13, I was worried about my tryout for the swim team and whether or not Ashley — Tall Ashley, not Short Ashley — would go to a movie with me. (She would not.)

When my dad turned 17, he graduated high school and went from being employed part-time for years to full-time work. He hasn’t let off the gas pedal, still working 40-plus hours a week like he has the past 35 years.

When I was 17, I was too busy caring about my fantasy football team to be bothered to get a job.

My birthday was last month, marking 10 years since I was an unconcerned high school senior without a job. Despite being legally old enough to vote since 2005, I don’t think I actually became a “grown up” until very recently.

I spent year after year drifting through majors in college, all the while amassing video game high scores and spending more time studying different types of beer than textbooks. I didn’t concern myself with developing meaningful relationships because the appeal of the here and now was more enticing than long-term planning.

But, when I think back on the past near-decade of my adulthood, I was definitely part of the rule, not the exception.

What has made my peers and I like this? Can we blame the general apathy and directionlessness of millenials on upbringing? My parents have never been anything but supportive, while I know several people my age that did not have parents like that. We all seem to be figuring out our lives around the same time, so that can’t be it.

No, I’m going to point my finger at the evolution of technology and the splitting of our collective attention. Why go out to make new friends when you can connect with people through online forums and social media? It’s sad when I see my friends that are more comfortable swiping left or right on Tinder — a “dating” app for smartphones, for those of you who don’t know — than approaching someone they are attracted to and starting a conversation. Even amongst friends, the smartphone is an ubiquitous part of conversation, interrupting the flow of conversation with other distractions.

If there is one great hurdle that faces Americans in the future, it’s not financial or educational crises; it’s making sure we have enough people versed enough in communicating with their fellow countrymen to come to a positive resolution to those crises.

So, don’t be alarmed if you see me approach you at the grocery store or bank or mall and start talking to you. It’s just my little attempt to help make some social change before it’s too late for all of us. 

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.