You’ve been in these moments before. Time slows down, the silence breaks you, then your heart starts to palpitate like a locomotive. You look around and see all eyes judging you. You hear a faint sound of mocking laughter, and at the corner of your eye, you see a guy shaking his head out of disappointment. You feel the embarrassment eating you up alive — all because you high-fived what was clearly a fist bump, you imbecile. The joys of being a millennial, ladies and gentlemen.
The Nerd Culture Kicked Off Our Awkward Phase
The earliest movie I could remember with an awkward protagonist as lead was Napoleon Dynamite. It was a hit back in 2004, and although I’ve forgotten most of it, the impression it left me remains: being awkward is actually pretty cool. Many movies focusing on oddballs and weirdos came out since — Superbad, Pitch Perfect, Scott Pilgrim vs The World — and before I knew it, I saw myself cheering for and emulating those lovable misfits. It made me feel good to be awkward myself, simply because I saw how these seemingly pathetic people managed to get what they wanted in the end. It felt good to see awkward people like me get validated.
The emergence of nerd culture in media sparked the beginning of our generation being awkward, according to my very unscientific theory. We started “embracing the uncool,” so to speak. Just look at the types of stories we see onscreen. Posh series like 90210, True Blood, and Dawson’s Creek were phased out by quirky characters from shows like Modern Family, Glee, and, just recently, Stranger Things. Big movie franchises feature nerdy leads in Harry Potter, Back to the Future, and Spider-Man. And, seriously, do I even need to mention the different fandoms? The point is, thanks to this drastic change in media, we now enjoy a more inclusive culture where being different is actually encouraged.
So, if the references I mentioned transferred you back to your childhood, then you’re probably a geek, too! This exciting revolution in the way we produce media affirmed the idea of going against the norm. It shattered stereotypes and helped us define our own personalities. Suddenly, using glasses doesn’t make you a wimp anymore. Having braces is admired rather than laughed at. Joining the dance team doesn’t equate to being feminine. Hell, being gay is celebrated now! We’re living in an era of acceptance where being “perfect” isn’t the be-all and end-all. And, by default, this revolution has also normalized introversion. No one’s bothering the kid who’s always silent because it’s okay to be shy and aloof now.
Also, having great shows at the tip of our fingertips contributed to the decrease of outgoing extroverts. Who wants to go outside when you have six more Riverdale episodes to binge on?
Political Correctness May Have Broken Us A Little
As a kid, my mom would hit me with a stick or a broom whenever I stole from her purse. Likewise, my dad would show me tough love with a leather belt. I was lucky enough to live in the closing moments of that era when hitting your kids was okay. Child services wouldn’t come knocking on your door the minute neighbors heard a loud cry. Instead, kids like me sucked it up and, after a stern lecture, continued being stupid anyway. Besides, if I’d been in my parents’ shoes, I’d probably beat the shit out of my own candy ass, too. I was — and still am, to some extent — a total doofus.
Too bad that era’s over. We now live in a PC culture where everyone’s a winner. The simplest words offend people, and trolls are entitled to their own opinions. If you grew up in the same era I did, good for you! You know the value of discipline, honesty, and the importance of having a thick skin. However, if you were sheltered by your loving parents, chances are you’re a bit socially challenged. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for parents to beat their kids up so they’ll learn some social skills. What I’m saying is a lot of millennials probably needed a bit more discipline while they were growing up. Toughen them up a little, you know? Then again, I still ended up being awkward, so you tell me.
Ever noticed how parents these days tend to do whatever it takes to make it easier for their kids? While it is a commendable parenting technique, it’s also likely to produce a bunch of legal-aged millennials who can’t cope with the challenges of adulthood, e.g. network building and mingling with co-workers. I even know some people who call their parents when faced with normal household situations. We take easy options and refuse to face these tasks head-on, allowing for our social anxiety to take over. Basically, our parents prepared the road for us instead of preparing us for the road. Man, that kinda sucks.
Our Smartphones Are Making Us Awkward
I’ve been walking this earth for over 20 years, and that’s enough time for me to forget how life is without a smartphone by my side. We are a generation who sat on front row seats to watch a technical revolution. We grew up witnessing the rise and fall of tech giants like Nokia and Blackberry, the evolution of Apple’s touchscreen from being a laughable joke to a millennial necessity, and the transformation of computers from bulky units to smaller devices. Basically, we were born with screens on our faces — that’s why we’re so damn awkward all the freaking time. On a side note, remember playing Snake on a Nokia dumbphone? That shit was the bomb.
Fill these devices with addictive games and social media channels, and you’ve got a generation of screen-obsessed brats. And, for once, researchers actually agree with me. A group of app developers conducted a study back in 2015 to test how attached millennials are to social media. Unsurprisingly, they discovered that 54% of the 3,000 participants admitted to feeling left out when they’re not checking their social media feed every minute, while 87% have confessed to ruining a conversation because they were distracted by their phones. The researchers concluded that we millennials are more interested in living our lives through our online personas — which sounds like a premise for a Black Mirror episode.
That’s not all. An earlier study from Virginia Tech University also found that we don’t even need to check our smartphones to divert our attention; its mere presence is distraction enough. “Even without active use, the presence of mobile technologies has the potential to divert individuals from face-to-face exchanges, thereby undermining the character and depth of these connections. Individuals are more likely to miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in the tone of their conversation partner’s voice, and have less eye contact.” It makes sense, too, because if you know you have a phone that can do almost anything, it’s hard to resist the urge to check it out. This is certainly the case in almost any social situation a millennial faces. Researchers, man. Burning us with truths left and right.
Is Being Awkward A Bad Thing?
Not at all! We’re all a bunch of awkward kids trying to figure out how to be adults. I’m your homie here. I’m actually patting your back and mine as well. We started a revolution, you guys! You know who else thinks we’re awesome for being awkward? Researchers and scientists! Wait, what?
According to a study from Oxford University, our awkwardness is a manifestation of intense passion and focus on our chosen interest. We tend to have a more systematic way of thinking compared to our more social counterparts. If you’re into science, you tinker with elements and chemicals. If you’re into literature, you read books for days on end. We occupy ourselves with the things we enjoy. For me, that would be pro-wrestling. I remember watching DVDs of wrestling for entire weekends, barely going outside to play with other kids. When we first got our internet, I never left home at all. I was glued in front of the family computer watching wrestling clips until my eyes hurt. Fun times.
The study also found a significant association between awkwardness and specialized talent. Our “sharp focus, passionate interest, and unusual perspective combined with a dash of natural ability” will unlock exciting possibilities for us. So, if I were obsessed with being a wrestler more than watching wrestling, I’d be a world champion by now. Unfortunately, this passion is also a reason why we’re having a hard time navigating our social life. People tend to be more complex — something an obsessive person cannot change or control. Since we’re so passionate about what we do, why should we waste our time learning how to act properly around people? As a sassy middle-aged woman once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
So, hey, not too shabby for someone who fails daily social interactions, amirite?
Still, Maybe We Need To Be Less Awkward
Being awkward probably works for you, but we still need to navigate this thing called life. Expecting the world to adjust to our awkward ways won’t get us far, and that’s exactly why the boomers are insistently calling us entitled, damn it! Let’s not give them more reasons to criticize us. Heaven knows we’ve already ruined almost everything they cherish.
So, let’s check out some small exercises I came up with to slowly take command of any social situation. Because, hey, a few steps are better than doing nothing at all.
Just speak up. I’m not saying speaking up should be easy. I’m saying it’s easy to pretend it’s easy. You catching my drift? Believing you can do something actually works, just like faking a smile can help lighten your mood. So just wing it! Try it out the next time you’re out with friends or dining with family.
Improve your hygiene. This is another trick to boost your morale. Maybe part of the anxiety you feel comes from the fact that you only shower thrice a week? Step up your hygiene and shower every day, you hippie! Knowing that you’re clean enough to knock everyone dead is a surefire way to get rid of some anxiety you’re having.
Drop your smartphone (for a while). I know your iPhone X is a cool phone and you worked hard for it — and judging by its price here in the Philippines, you practically starved yourself to death just to have one. But when you’re out with friends or family, drop it for a while to interact with them like a real human being. Your animoji friends won’t go anywhere.
Learn from extroverts and good speakers. Surely, you have some outgoing friends or acquaintances? Hang out with them at least once and see how they navigate social situations. Your friends can even help ease the anxiety you have and introduce you to a conversation more naturally.
Obviously, I can’t really change who you are, but at least you now have a slight idea why we are the way we are. Despite all the reasons I listed, I’m actually glad our culture has now become inclusive of almost anything. So, hey, don’t feel bad about lacking social skills. We are awkward AF, and that defines our entire generation.
Are you as awkward as an ostrich lost in a henhouse? What’s your opinion about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? Sound off in the comments below.