A Moment’s Notice:
Striving for Awareness of Each Moment,
Reflecting on the Events of the Moment
In my last post I worried that the development of brain-computer interfaces would turn us into motionless sloths who change television channels just by thinking. But now I’d like for you to consider a more disturbing consequence: That such technological advancements would render our isolation from each other total and complete.
You might be asking, “What isolation?” If so, I gather you haven’t wandered into a public place in the last ten years or so. Stroll through a shopping mall, wait in line in a grocery store, or take a seat at a church supper and you’ll see folks hunched over smartphones and tablets, oblivious to the people around them.
My mother used to scold my sister and me about our posture: “Raise up your shoulders! Hold up your head!” I wonder what Mama would say if she could see today’s wireless junkies. She might try to give their slouched posture the benefit of the doubt, attributing their bowed heads to prayer in progress. But then she would see the dance of the index fingers. Slide up, slide down, tap, tap. Slide, tap, slide, tap. Tap, tap, tap, tap...
Tapping, not talking.
Many in our modern world seem to have taken a vow of silence, preferring quiet communion with cyberspace to conversation with their fellow man. In spite of my reputation for chatter I have no quibble with quietude. Companionable silence with a dear one and the peace of a house devoid of noise are good things.
What I don’t understand is turning away from the wonders of the world and the people who populate it in favor of Mozilla, Google, Outlook, Twitter, and Instagram. Before the advent of wireless technology folks had to make the best of whatever situation in which they found themselves. Consider a line in a grocery store. Customers could choose to engage with the people around them, complaining about high prices or talking about the weather; study the tabloids at checkout, especially that article about the alien baby; or even talk to the cashier, who managed to smile in spite of the onslaught of shoppers.
(I must interrupt this even-tempered commentary with a rant. I fume when I see people conduct an entire retail transaction without acknowledging the person behind the register. I want to scream, “Were you raised by wolves? That’s a human being in front of you, not an ATM with a pulse.” We now return to our discussion in progress.)
When I go about my routine with my eyes wide open I stumble across countless stories: The woman struggling to help aging parents, the elderly couple who met online traveling to a fresh start in Florida, the World War II veteran eager to talk. I suppose it’s no coincidence that most of the people open to impromptu conversation are middle-aged or older. There seems to be a relationship between youth and a strong attachment to electronic devices. I’ll never forget visiting the National Archives and seeing two children playing with handheld video games as they stood before the Declaration of Independence. (To be fair, I’ve also seen a middle-aged man surfing the Internet as our cruise ship sailed among Alaska’s glaciers.)
Although I don’t have a smartphone I am not blameless when it comes to inattention to the moment. My blog’s mission statement at the top of this post is an ongoing resolution. I wish I had spent less time taping my younger son’s band concerts and more time enjoying them. I’ve missed conversations in progress because I was occupied with my responses or writing the next version of my to-do list. I haven’t fully appreciated the beauty of a sunset over the ocean and clouds skimming over mountaintops because my mind was busy elsewhere.
If such inattention is a problem now, what will happen once we establish an all-but-psychic link to our machines? Picture this: You’re standing in your backyard, talking to your neighbor Ray about the high cost of living and whether the Nationals will win the pennant. All of a sudden Ray’s eyes close, his lids flutter, and his sprinkler system comes to life. A moment later he’s staring past you and smiling, and you realize he just got an update about the Capitals game. He reengages in the conversation for a couple of minutes but then you see him swaying slowly; he must have downloaded that new song by country music’s latest guy with a hat.
At this point I’d ditch Ray and spend the rest of the day with a Labrador retriever.
I wrote last time that technology is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. We must resolve to use machines and interact with people. To do the opposite will lead us down a lonely path.
What do you think? Am I making valid points or are my concerns unfounded? Could put aside your smartphone or tablet for a day? Six hours? I have a phone that is not smart: No Internet capability, no camera. What do you think I’m missing?
I look forward to hearing from you.
(Next time: What would you say if your best friend got a tattoo? “Cool!” or “What were you thinking?” We’ll discuss both sides of the issue.)