Smart Wired But Only Half Connected

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For those growing up today, I can only imagine how out of date their parents and grandparents must feel to them.  After all, unless parents and grandparents are into technology, have the latest i-Phone or Android phone, and regularly Twitter, Stumble, Reddit, or have at least 600 friends on Facebook they must seem like dinosaurs.  Count me in on the dinosaur pack. 



Kids are so “technified” these days I’m not sure they’re even aware of the degree to which technology drives our lives and expectations.  And as adults, we constantly have to make choices to either keep up with all the changes in technology, or risk letting them slip past.  The trouble I have isn’t with technology per se, but with the pace at which technology continues to evolve, and with the way it constantly intrudes and pushes personal boundaries.


When I raised my kids, I made a point to have sit-down dinners where we all gathered about the table to discuss the day’s events.  Back then, there where no cell or smart phones to interrupt so the only way that happened was if we got a “sales call” on the landline or someone actually rang the door bell.  Later on, pagers and then the first cell phones became popular, but we never bought in to the idea our kids needed one or that we had to carry it with us wherever we went.  These days, I’ll sit with my kids at the table (and even a few of older relatives trying to keep up) and inevitably someone gets beeped or vibrated and either responds to a call or starts typing a text.  And even when it isn’t motivated by an outside contact, the phones often come out because someone just has to check Facebook, show off the latest YouTube video, or look up something on Google or IMDB.  Enough, already!


When I was a boy, we had rules at dinnertime.  You’d wash your hands before you came to sit down.  You’d have to sit still in your chair.  You were to keep your elbows off the table.  There were no hats allowed.  And if you were finished with your meal and wanted to rush out, you asked to be excused. Now, in truth, Dad’s business required a lot of contact over the telephone so it wouldn’t be unusual for him to take a call.  Even so, dinner time was a time of family gathering where people actually tried connecting for a few minutes every day.  Nowadays, it’s like people are only half connecting.  Our attention is so divided—there are too many ways to be interrupted by these new technologies.


Ironically, as I think back on life, my best experiences are memorable because they involve actual face-to-face connection with friends or family—connections without interruption of any kind.  I can think of many fond instances with people of sitting around a campfire, having a nice meal together, sharing a glass of wine, strolling down a beach, going for a walk, resting on a park bench, or just lying around the living room and in every case, it was “real human interaction” that made the moment meaningful.


I guess I’m angry with the way things are turning out.  I miss the old days and I’m too young for that!  I wish people would switch their phones off from time to time and not be so tied to the idea they need to be in constant contact with the rest of the world.  You see, when I visit with a friend or family member I want my time.  Call me selfish if you must, but I think there’s something special in putting the phones aside and giving me your full attention.  It’s like you’re making a statement that I’m important to you and you intend to be present in the moment for me.  And really, isn’t that how the “best connections” are made?


In my view, those who make and sell all this smart technology (whose outward purpose is to “keep us better connected”) have created a type of addiction that makes real, meaningful communication harder.  It began innocently enough—people could call in an emergency or a boss could track down an errant employee.  However, we used to work 8 to 5 or some semblance thereof, but now it’s more like 24-7.  A “critical” text, alert, or call can come at any moment and the expectation is that we should respond immediately.  Somehow, our work and family boundaries have been usurped and it’s like we’re perfectly okay with it.


I foresee a world split by those who are comfortable and happy using technology and those who feel more and more left out, or even disgusted by it.  Already, I notice that those who have smart phones just seem to operate with a different set of rules and expectations.  Is this the beginning of a new type of class warfare?  One pitting “techies” against “non-techies”?  I can see it happening.  Meanwhile, to keep the peace with the dinosaurs at dinner table, how about logging off?



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