As the rain fell, Steve Carell asked audience members to turn and look at the people seated next to them.
“What do we learn from this exercise? We learn that nobody looks each other in the eyes anymore,” Carell said.
“As human beings, we should naturally crave contact with one another. But sadly, as the world grows more and more technologically advanced, we lose our ability to connect as human beings,” he said. “The Internet, texting, tweeting, iMail, email, Gmail, iChat, Facebook, FaceTime, LOL, TMI, BFF, NSFW, OMFG … LMFAO.”
Carell, best known for his portrayal of Michael Scott on NBC’s hit show “The Office,” said when he was in college, he wouldn’t text a girl to ask her out on a date. He would ask her in person.
“One human being to another,” he said. “And when she said `No,’ which she always did, I would suffer the humiliation and self-loathing that a young man needs for his, or her, personal growth. A text does nothing more than protect us. It protexts us, if you will. It keeps us safe. It is like a warm blanket that insulates us from the truth — the truth of how unappealing I was to Amy Miller. Well, look at me now, Amy. Princeton Class Day speaker. Suck on that.”
“My point is, I suffered. You should have to suffer, too,” he said.
Carell addressed graduating seniors and other attendees as the keynote speaker at Class Day, an upbeat, spirited Princeton University tradition held the day before graduation and organized by the students. Carell talked about how technology has changed our lives and described how college was a much simpler time back in his day.
“When I was in college, we had libraries, with actual books. I had a library card, with which I could borrow a book, take that book home, read that book, eventually forget that I had that book, and then never return that book,” he said. “Unlike a Kindle or an iPad, books had a certain smell. A certain feel. They had their own fascinating history. Countless readers before me had touched that book, breathed on it, stuck their gum between the pages.”
Carell said when he was in college students didn’t Google something if they didn’t know the answer.
“We just made an educated guess, or we made it up. We pretended that we knew, and that was good enough,” he said. “If a person believed that they were right, it was just as good as actually being right. And if you weren’t right, you could leave before anyone had time to check your facts. Those days are gone now. Everybody knows everything.”
These days, he said students and their parents are in constant contact.
“When I was in college, I would call my parents for three reasons: When I needed money, when I was thinking about changing my major, and when I got a person pregnant,” he said. “Today, parents are much more attuned to their children’s college experience. But I wonder, is this right? Isn’t college supposed to be the time when you go from hating your parents to just simply not caring about them?”
Carell said there was no Facebook or Twitter when he was in college, only the phone book.
“We used good old-fashioned gossip. If you wanted to talk about someone, you could do it face to face, right behind their back,” he said. “We have lost touch with our simpler selves, and by `we’ I mean you. You are young … and because of that, you are wrong.”
As the rain stopped, Carell became a little more serious. He described how he was filling out his application to law school when he was about to graduate from college, and realized he had no idea why he wanted to become a lawyer.
“It sounded good. My parents had worked extraordinarily hard to give me a great education, and I felt that I owed them some sort of valid career choice. So I sat down with my folks, and asked them what they thought, and they proceeded to give me the best advice that I had ever received, or would ever receive. Their words were profound, wise, and they completely altered the rest of my life,” he said. “They said something like `blah, blah blah, follow your dreams, blah blah blah.’ I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I didn’t go to law school.”
“Ultimately that was the right choice for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been happy as an attorney, and they knew it. They also understood that it was my future, my life. They very wisely advised me to do what I knew I already wanted to do. As Harry Truman once said, `The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want, and then advise them to do it’.”
He left graduates with several “helpful hints” about life:
Show up on time. Because to be late is to show disrespect.
Remember that the words “regime” and “regimen” are not interchangeable.
Get a dog, because cats are lame.
Only use a “That’s what she said” joke if you absolutely cannot resist.
Never try to explain a “That’s what she said” joke to your parents.
When out to eat, tip on the entire check. Do not subtract the tax first.
And every once in a while, put something positive into the world.
We have become so cynical these days. And by we I mean us.
So do something kind, make someone laugh, and don’t take yourself too seriously.