(credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Much has been made in the last decade of how this generation lacks the focus and work ethic of generations past. And, to that end, studies have been done to offer some tangible proof as to these widely accepted assertions. There was a great article in the New York Times about a year ago (I love the NYT and will reference it constantly), by Matt Richtel, titled “Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction”, which did an excellent job of capturing our generation’s mentality. It discussed how cutting edge technology and social media not only offered more distractions for young people; its steady use has succeeded in shifting their focus habits.

Researchers fear that because technology and social media offer constant, steady stimulus, developing brains will eventually become habituated to constantly switching tasks and, unfortunately, be less able to sustain attention. They theorize that this will lead to an entire generation of kids “whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

So how does all of this relate to tailgating? Well, the same criticisms and observations of children and their inability to focus on a single task carries over to the tailgating experience as well. To wit, none of my early tailgating experiences with my dad (in the mid 90’s) involved electronics of any kind. If we were lucky, someone would bring along a radio so that people who were tailgating could listen to whatever game happened to be on. Otherwise it was just you and whomever you came with sitting and talking for 5 hours. Fast-forward a decade and a half later where conversations rarely last longer than ten minutes and people are constantly fiddling with their phones. Whenever there is even an instant of conversational downtime, people instinctively move to text, or browse the web, or write an email, or scroll absentmindedly. As a result, much of the interpersonal engagement that made tailgating so magical has been lost.

So what’s the solution? First, an anecdote: A little over a month ago, I got into a mini debate (on Facebook no less) about what exactly “tailgating” should consist of. I originally posted a thought that I felt tailgating close to a stadium in someone’s garage was my idea of “perfect tailgating.” Why? Because in the garage we have a big screen TV, a grill, shade, didn’t have to worry about parking and, perhaps most importantly, good clean bathrooms to use (rather than the explosion of filth that is a stadium port-a-potty.) We’d still go to the game of course, but we’d get dropped off right outside the stadium and picked up there as well. It was more comfortable and it was more efficient (and, coincidentally, supported by Matt Whitener in his article on Tailgate Fan titled “Home-gate“, where he discussed his theories on how to turn your home-entertainment system into a fun tailgating experience.) Seems like a no brainer right? Well, as it turned out, not as much as I thought. There are traditionalists (including more than a few of my closest friends,) who get incredibly, and immediately offended at the mere suggestion that tailgating could be done anywhere other than in a parking lot. They argued that tailgating, by definition, is about the atmosphere, about sitting on or around the back of a car, and about eating in the stadium parking lot surrounded by thousands of people who are doing exactly the same thing.

What I’d argue – what the traditionalists are overlooking is that now, with the advent of social media and smartphone technology, their hallowed conception of tailgating has already evolved past the point of no return. Short of collecting, and holding, every cell phone before the tailgate, there is no way to return to the same raw, fan-filled atmosphere of emotion that existed before. Like the iconic image of a family at a dinner table where both kids are texting and looking disinterested while their parents try to engage them in conversation, tailgating too has apparently succumbed to the swarm of social media. Indeed, one no longer even needs to be present at a tailgate to get a feel for the experience. For example, once I arrive, I can check in on Foursquare, Tweet the coordinates of my location, Tweet when I take my first drink, and Instagram a picture of both our grill as we cook as well as the finished food. Finally, if I get bored, I can log onto Facebook to see how everyone else not currently at the tailgate is doing. The sad part? Anyone sitting at home on their computer could have access to the exact same data. So, even if they never leave their house, they could still recall in vivid detail, the events of a tailgate they never attended. And, recently, more and more people have begun to do this. Tailgating traditionalists are always going to tailgate. It’s in their blood. But for the casual fan? Why go down to the stadium when you could, for example, stay in the aforementioned garage with the big TV? Or, better yet, in a man-cave with air conditioning and a fully stocked refrigerator? Tailgating has progressed (or regressed) to the point where it seems that there are only two options left. To continue on in denial that tailgates are the same as they’ve always been, or, to try to adapt and recapture some of the old magic that made it so special.

How people would continue in denial is obvious. Just keep plodding along and act as though everything is okay. But how to change? That takes a bit more ingenuity and open-mindedness. My suggestion? Mobile tailgate applications. Why? Because if people are going to be on their phones anyway, it’s the perfect way to reach them and incentivize attendance, as opposed to apathy. Indeed, steps in this direction have already been taken, as one need look no further then this very site to find a solution! Tailgate Fan.com has built out a great app for iPhone and Android users (sorry Blackberry) to help make the tailgating process both easier and more social. The app integrates location-based software into a great content management system that allows you to plan a tailgate, invite your friends, delegate food assignments, view other tailgates near you and, most importantly, post on a wall about why your tailgate is better than all the rest. So, not only does this make the organization process easier, it works with our dependency on our cell phones by turning the art of tailgating into a competition.

Towards the end of Richtel’s article, he discusses Woodside High School in Silicon Valley and how its principal, David Reilly, is determined to work with technology rather than against it. He tasked his teachers with building web sites to help engage the students, re-tooled his music classes to integrate digital recording devices, and planned to use iPad’s to teach Mandarin. Unfortunately, while his strategy is admirable, it is far from being universally accepted. Some teachers feared that his eagerness to embrace technology would succeed only in accelerating the decline of their students’ individual focus. One teacher who remained in particularly staunch opposition to Reilly’s tactics, noted that “you can’t become a good writer by watching YouTube, texting and e-mailing a bunch of abbreviations.” This same logic can be applied to the rationale of those who remain against integrating social media with tailgates. If you need a phone app to tell you that you’re having a good time then, well, that sort of speaks for itself. However, the reality for those against change is that they may not have any choice. People are so tied to their phones that social media integration is likely to be in the inevitable, and probably quite near, future of tailgating (I’ve already downloaded and used the Tailgate Fan app to plan my last tailgate. Yes I’m drinking the kool-aid and no, I’m not ashamed to admit it!)

Harrison Goo is a contributor to CBS Local and the founder of the blog Sportsgooru.com. To contact him, email him at harrison@sportsgooru.com follow him on twitter at @sportsgooru.

Related Stories

Start Your Party With Tailgate Fan »