I recently spent 10 days in close proximity to a 14-year-old. She was attached, almost at all times, to her smartphone, using it to continually text her friends.
Watching her, I wondered what will be the effects of this ever-evolving technology on youth? Will they be able to establish social skills, have close and intimate relationships, be able to focus and concentrate over a period of time?
And what of the older boomer generation?
Some of us, already mature adults, readily adopted the new technology and continue to crave all the latest inventions guaranteed to speed up our lives and make us better able to respond immediately to any outside message. Others were dragged into this current of somewhat challenging devices, fighting it for a while, but finally surrendering. We may make moderate use of the computer and are not bound 100 percent to a cellphone.
There are still a few stubborn holdouts who are able to resist technology almost completely. They may refuse to use a cellphone except for dire emergencies and, although they have use of a computer, they really don't want to bother putting in the effort to learn those skills. This rare, almost extinct, breed, often feels some pride in doing as they please, but their friends and colleagues find it frustrating, and maybe even maddening, that they can't be easily reached.
Can it be said that the compulsive behavior of never being separated from one screen or another is addictive and destructive? Is too much attachment — being hooked on constant television, or inseparable from the computer or cellphone — an indication we are using technology as an escape? Or as a nonprescription drug that we require to soothe our anxieties and make us feel better? If our smartphone is always in our hand or our pocket, or resting on the bedside table while we sleep SEmD we may want to consider that it is, in fact, ruling our lives.
It can, of course, be argued that all this technology is beneficial, convenient and making our lives easier. It is faster and much more efficient to let our fingers do the talking and the walking. These devices are able to surf the Internet and are capable of completing many tasks, including shopping, finding us a date or making our reservations. We can play a game, see a movie, check the dictionary and even have sex (sort of).
Who wouldn't want to have that constant convenience?
I, for one. I like seeing a friendly face when I shop in town. I'd rather visit in person with anyone I care to talk to, and if that can't happen, I want to at least hear their voice. Hopefully, we can talk when I can give them my full attention rather than while I am driving my car. I still find it an odd phenomenon when I walk down the street and see every other person with a phone to their ear and a distracted look in their eye.
The laws against using the phone while driving are quickly being put in place. And beyond this, cities like Philadelphia are now targeting distracted (texting) pedestrians, issuing $120 tickets for endangering themselves and others.
Through texting or using social networks, it may be said, we are moving one step farther away from valuing truly personal connectedness and an appreciation for clear communication.
You may remember a time when life moved at a slower pace.
Every house had a rotary phone we used whenever we wanted to make a call. It required putting a finger in the corresponding finger hole and rotating the dial clockwise until it reached the stop, and then pulling out the finger so the dial could return to its resting spot before you moved onto the next digit.
There were no answering machines, no call waiting, no automatic redial and especially no phone you could carry in your pocket. If you dialed a number that did not answer, you simply called back later. And was it so bad to have to call back?
Perhaps we now have an overly inflated sense of self-importance and a stronger urge to get in touch just when we need to.
What disturbs me most with society's attachment to the cellphone is the resulting loss of decent social manners.
I find it rude when I get together with acquaintances and they think nothing of answering a call. They are always ready to respond to the vibration or the adorable jingle that beckons them. If there is an emergency, that is different, but almost always, there is no situation that requires an instant response.
Mostly, it is that obsession to check or respond to any outside call, even when we are engaged in lively conversation — perhaps sharing some deep thought or emotion. Responding to a call means our mutual sharing immediately comes to end. Sometimes, I don't even hear, "Excuse me, I have to get this. I am expecting an important call."
These otherwise-thoughtful people don't seem to think it rude to drop me and our conversation and switch their undivided attention to whoever else is on the line, chatting away as if I am invisible. Their voice becomes extra loud, adding more insult as I then have to listen to their conversation or walk away.
It will be interesting to follow the backlash of all these timesaving devices. I believe I am not alone in saying, "Turn it off and tune in right here, right now."
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Angelena Craig of Newburyport is the director of The New Aging Movement and a professional-level yoga instructor. Visit her website at www.thenewagingmovement.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.