Following SXSW-Interactive, i rented a car and headed to suburbs outside of Austin to interview teens. Between my interviews, i drove around the different suburbs to check out what i could see. It was completely eerie. While the streets of Austin are overflowing with SXSW attendees, the suburbs are startlingly silent. During the 3+ hours of touring various neighborhoods, i saw a total of two kids outside (on their driveway). While this may make sense for a typical weekday, it’s spring break in Austin. It might also have made sense if the weather was dreadful, but both days were in the mid-70s. I saw numerous sprinklers watering grass, but there were no kids playing on the grass.
The explanations that i heard outside of Austin were like the ones i’ve heard so many times before:
- “There’s nothing to do outside.”
- “My parents won’t let me.” (Typically followed with a remark of what the parents are afraid of.)
- “None of my friends live nearby.” (Typically followed by a comment on needing parents to drive them anywhere)
Sometimes, i hear comments about the fast-moving cars and the lack of sidewalks. In the cities, i hear about gang turf wars. In newer suburban neighborhoods, i hear about not knowing/trusting the neighbors. Whatever the excuse, i rarely hear teens talk about things that they do outside in open space. (Sports typically happen outside in closed space.)
My mother remembers getting lost on July 4th in the suburbs of New Jersey a few years back. She felt like she ran into the twilight zone. There were no BBQs, no picnics, no pickup football games, no family gatherings, no chalk on the streets, no nothing. Everyone was indoors.
This makes me sad, very very sad.