The Hermit Crab Economy: There Are Endless Apps for That

The Hermit Crab Economy There Are Endless Apps for ThatThe other day, I tried to engage a fellow resident in the apartment complex where I live in some light conversation. Let me tell you, the recoil on a modern neighbor beats any I ever experienced from shotguns my father-in-law handed me when he taught me to shoot tin cans in the backyard.

At no time in history have there been so many people who’d describe themselves as “fully engaged” who live like — I kid you not — solitary hermit crabs.

Sure, they want to share kitty pictures on Instagram, tell you what they ate last night via Facebook, order groceries from PeaPod, get their books from Amazon, hustle up a ride from Uber … but heaven forbid they have to confront very many real … live … humans.

When I consider the interesting characters once met by rolling down the car window and asking for directions now made obsolete by Google maps and GPS, a sadness floods over me. These people used to tell you not only where to turn, but where to get the best tuna salad sandwich in town. But heck, we’ve got Yelp for that today.

Seriously, my neighbor – with whom I was either discussing the weather or the condition of the carpet in the lobby, I can’t remember — looked at me like I was probably crazy, or packin’, or both.

I hear it’s worse in bigger cities than I currently live in. Apartment buildings full of Twitterers and Reddit rabbits and GrubHub diners. Entire colonies of folks whose primary fear is that they might have to come out of their coconut shells and engage with other homo sapiens.

Why go out when an app will deliver dinner? Why shop when some minimum wage grunt will deliver the toilet paper? Why talk to a neighbor when your life is so full of “friends” on Facebook and Instagram? Why go to the store? There’s a people-free pipeline from Pinterest to Target, you know.

Here’s the truth about Hermit crabs. When you buy one and take it home, it’s bound to die within a few months at most (though in the wild they can live up to 30 years in their natural tropical seashore habitats). While they hide in your home in an inverted shell surrounded by colored sand in a plastic tub — alone and lonely — in fact, they prefer to live in large colonies, where they often sleep piled up together.

Back in 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers did a study on this stuff. They sounded the alarm that the internet could indeed turn us into hermits. What they discovered about the web-surfers of the world was that they started talking less with family and friends, and became both more isolated and depressed. And they said they loved the internet!

I didn’t get my neighbor’s name. That would be invasive, I guess, and something he now reserves for Tinder hook-ups.

So it’s off to my colored sand and coconut shell. Two can play this game. Or maybe two million. Or unfortunately, even more than that.