For the past several months, I have mentioned the disruption caused by technology. The list is long: privacy concerns surrounding Facebook posts…pornography readily available to children…impact on journalism, especially newspapers…the decline in writing ability due to texting and the drop in reading…the instant gratification and loss of patience due to immediate information from technological devices…the closure of retail businesses unable to compete with the online vendors…teen suicides exacerbated by online bullying.
In fairness, technology provides more benefits than losses. However, the challenges continue even from “low tech” devices.
Take the humble cellphone, now dubbed the “smart” phone. It’s not primarily used as a phone; it’s an information center which has certainly changed our behavior. How often, for instance have you nearly steered your car into a pedestrian not paying attention to anything but his phone? No one “wonders” anymore. Just pull out the phone and get whatever obscure fact you desire.
Several weeks ago Utah made national news when Broadway actors in “Hamilton” called out audience members in Salt Lake City who were disrupting the performance by viewing phones. (Call me clueless, but why would a person pay $200 for a ticket and be more interested in a cat video than the performance on stage?)
Later that same night, I watched a family (mom, date, two pre-teen children) dining at a restaurant and not speaking or even looking at one another. They were all glued to their phones, hardly a tribute to “families are forever.”
But the best analysis came from a simple letter to the editor in a non-tech vehicle – the opinion page of the New York Times. A woman wrote last week to comment about the special photo section reviewing events in the summer of 1978. Here is what she wrote:
“What struck me immediately about the photos was that in each one, people are engaged with one another and their real-time activities. People looked at each other, spoke to each other, listened to each other, paid attention to their surroundings. No phones compete for their attention. The simple joys of everyday living and people’s engagement with on another lovingly on display.
“In this time of disconnected connectivity in which friends often never look at each other, choosing to look at their phones or take selfies instead, this photo section is a beautiful but heartbreaking reminder of all we have lost.”
A sizeable number of Americans recently said they would never attend a musical concert if they couldn’t bring their cellphones into the arena or music hall. Another survey found that the average young adult could not go at least seven minutes without looking at their phone.
And I’m reminded of a time in Paris, France where travelers were more interested in posing and taking selfies than being present, experiencing the beauty, and viewing the lights of Paris and the Eiffel Tower on a Seine River cruise.
There’s nothing evil about a cellphone. Just know when to put it away and be present in life itself.