“Communication”

So keeping a blog has led me also to read the blogs of others–something I never did before. Sometimes I’m edified by what others have to say, or at least entertained, and sometimes I come away just plain annoyed. Take this post which I stumbled upon today on WordPress’s “freshly pressed” page: http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/21/phones-at-dinner/

In a nutshell, the writer of the blog post argues that the use of phones shouldn’t be frowned on when going out to dinner anymore, because “that’s the way the world is going,” basically. Sadly, his argument doesn’t really become more cogent as the article goes on. His two main points are, 1) we need to follow the trend and just deal with it, and 2) some people prefer the distractions of email, texts, apps, etc. to healthy conversation with the physical people around them…unless, of course, the physical people around them want to talk about email, texts, apps, etc., at which point they can enjoy their distractions “together.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against technology. I think our ability to remain so connected in this communication age is (or can be) a wonderful thing. But, like anything else, it can also be a big problem. Take, for example, my weekly meeting with the teenagers at my parish church. The idea is to have fellowship, taking an hour out of everyone’s busy week to come together, drink hot cocoa or eat cookies, and chat. Occasionally we’ll play a game; over Christmas we made cards for residents at a local nursing home. I love hanging out with the kids–but I’m really only hanging out with an addled portion of each one, as they’re texting, listening to music, and playing games on their phones. Their bodies may be in the parish center, but their attention is scattered all over the place. And this saddens me: there’s an impassible block to my getting to know them any better, because “they” simply aren’t there.

The same thing happens when I visit my family; we spend a little bit of time together, but after half an hour (at most) of good conversation, out come the phones, the iPods, the iPad, the laptops…and suddenly we’re all in our own little worlds, and that’s the end. “Spending time together” does not mean “occupying the same space together.” I should say, b is an important part of a, but it’s definitely not all of a. Capiche?

Just because this is the way things seem to be going does not mean we have to stand for it. In fact, we shouldn’t stand for it. Communications devices are a great way to maintain contact with loved ones who are far away, definitely. And it’s great that we can look up the meaning of a word, the name of a celebrity, or last night’s game’s score so quickly in order to enhance our conversation. But why are we allowing these devices to take the place of the loved ones who are sitting in the same room?

And we wonder why our generation is so lonely…

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3 thoughts on ““Communication”

  1. I find it interesting that this phenomenon is clearly related to date of birth. I, being born in late 1978, enjoyed my teenage years before the World Wide Web was commonplace. E-mail existed, but we didn’t use it for most communication. We didn’t have cell phones in high school (early-mid 90’s) and Facebook didn’t become popular until we were finishing college.
    What you describe, about the cell phones and I-pads, doesn’t happen in my Family except for my youngest brother, who was born in 1988. He’s often “not all there” and we try to direct him to cease and desist with his need to be constantly online. This request seems to fall on deaf ears.
    My hypothesis is that it simply is EASIER, and less risky to interact with the world through a protective medium, in this case, the filter of electronics. In real life, you have to respond real-time, you have to come up with relevant topics of conversation, and you have to be INTERESTING to your fellow human beings. For many people this is extremely difficult and often leads to feelings of inadequacy. I think most people find the one step removed from real time the most rewarding with the least risk. Case in point – online arguments. Would anyone actually say some things to another person’s face? But they’ll say it online, when they are removed from the consequences of the other person’s reaction.
    Similarly, many psychological experiments have shown that it’s orders of magnitude more likely for people to inflict physical pain on other if they are watching images on a screen and pushing buttons to cause pain. If they have to do it face to face, it’s much less likely they are willing to cause pain.
    I agree, we should demand people put away their gadgets; it is not nor will it be OK with me to have my dinner companions distracted by their online presence…

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