Several months ago Fred and I parked our car by the golden arches in order to fulfill our need for fast food. It wasn’t long before a mother and her young son sat down at the table across from us. The little boy, I would say he was about 4 years old, had a happy meal and his mom had a drink and her cell phone. She opened the boy’s meal, took out his nuggets and left him to his own devices while she picked up her phone. It was the last time she communicated with her son during their entire meal. While mom scrolled and typed on her phone the little boy ate his food, looking around and smiling at people, making eye contact and swinging his feet back and forth like happy little kids do. He seemed to accept his mom’s preoccupation with her phone as the most natural thing in the world. For all intents and purposes he didn’t seem affected at all but I had to wonder.
For the record I don’t judge this mom. I relate to her.
Fred and I got our first computer in the early 90s and I was immediately hooked. I could explore the vast world wide web with a click of a mouse. I made friends from all over the globe and became involved in online communities. I sent emails like a crazy person and even learned how to create my own website. I’d found my niche. The problem was I got too involved with my new found love and it took over. I checked my email with ridiculous frequency and became immersed deeper and deeper into online communities, sometimes to my detriment. If I wasn’t on the computer I was thinking about what I’d find there when I finally got back to it.
It took years, and several unpleasant experiences, for me to learn to temper my online usage and put down my techie toys. I’m at a point now that I can just turn it all off and, much to my surprise, it has made life more pleasant. I no longer break out in a sweat when I can’t check my email. It has removed a lot of anxiety and worry that I’m missing something.
It seems kind of contradictory doesn’t it? Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and help us get our tasks done quicker, therefore giving us more free time. But in reality it eats up more of our time every day. We’re going forward and backward all at the same time.
Have you ever people watched at a coffee shop or restaurant? How many times have you seen two people sit down together and the first thing they do is put their cell phones on the table? On more than one occasion I’ve observed people chatting, really communicating face-to-face only to have one of their phones ring. They stop mid-sentence to answer a call or type a text, leaving their companion waiting, perhaps sending the message that the person on the other end of the phone is more important than they are.
Is this the message the little boy at McDonald’s was getting from his mom? Is it the message kids and adults alike are sending each other? That the people on the other side of the computer screen or the other end of our smart phones are more important than those sitting right in front of us?
There is a sign posted by the cash register at our local pharmacy that asks customers to end their phone calls before approaching the check out. Seriously? We really need to be told this? Are we not a polite enough society that we can’t put our phones down long enough to pay for our prescriptions? Are we not a respectful enough people to ignore our text messages until we’ve completed our transaction at the bank?
I’m not trying to diss technology. It’s brought to us a world we never had before. It’s allowed us to forge new friendships, keep in touch in real time and stay connected to those who live far away. We can get our news, sports and entertainment on demand. We can research every possible topic known to man and get the answers we need to make us more informed. We can give and receive support to anyone who is in need. For many who are lonely it is a lifeline that has brought great joy. Technology isn’t bad. The internet isn’t evil. But our obsession with these things has me wondering if we’re not headed toward a place and time when our face-to-face communication skills will become obsolete (okay, maybe that‘s stretching it a bit but I think you know where I‘m coming from.)
Will I give up my techie toys? Nope. Will I stop annoying my friends by posting pictures of my dogs on Facebook? Doubtful. Will I close down my email account, sell my computer and move to the woods and live off the land. That would be a resounding no. I just hope that as technology continues to advance at break neck speed we don’t lose our ability to be “in the moment” when we’re in the company of others. We are a species that craves companionship, touch and closeness and that is something that will never change no matter how much our technologically savvy world continues grow.