I don’t have a cell phone, and I have never sent a text message. I don’t own an e-reader, and my Ipod is an old one purchased for me by my wife. I do have a blog, and a Youtube Channel and I wrote a Kindle book, so I’m not quite a techno-hermit (a term I fully hope to get credit for), but I once had a job where I was required to have a cell-phone and it was, for all intents and purposes, an electronic leash. Once that job was a thing of the past, I resolved to not have a cell phone again unless there was some sort of law mandating it.
When people discover that I am phone-less, they usually react as if I just stepped out of some time warp, wearing an animal pelt and unable to comprehend the bright and shiny world in which the rest of them live. They expect me to squat in terror when an airplane flies overhead, or mumble about ‘juju’ when their phone rings. Once I convince them that, yes, I am familiar with indoor plumbing, the questions begin. What if you had an emergency? I will usually point out to these people that, though their device could come in handy, people were getting themselves in and out of emergencies long before there were cell phones. The belief that now that these devices are available, we cannot be expected to function without them is its own form of enslavement. We have traded our self-reliance for a shiny bauble that chirps and barks and demands our attention.
Think about this for a minute; when that device chirps or squeaks or whatever yours does, do you feel compelled to check it? And if so, why? Most of us aren’t that important, and most things don’t require our immediate attention. What is it about these things that make us stop everything (including safe driving) to stare at it? How does this thing get so much power over us that we would ignore those we love to hurriedly attend to a construct of metal and plastic?
Have we reached a point of technological dependence that most people have lost the ability to function free of it? If the internet and cell phones were shut down for 24 hours, what would happen to modern Americans? Can we still interact with real human beings, or have we lost the ability to simply sit and think without a constant feed of electronic stimulation? Do this simple experiment; the next time you are in a restaurant, look around. See how many people are sitting at a table together, all communing with their hand-held baubles instead of with each other. I ‘ve seen whole families that sat there for minutes on end without looking at each other but rather tapping away at their devices. I’ve seen husbands with much prettier wives than they deserve (which would be most of us) ignore those wives in favor of constant glances at a contraption that arrests his attention.
Social media sites can become a substitute for not only real life-interaction, but notification as well. If it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t happen, and if it did happen on Facebook, it’s assumed you know about it. At our church I confessed to being ignorant of an event in the life of a friend. The eye-rolling response was, “Well I put it on Facebook”. The implication was that pelt-wearers are just out of the loop and that putting it on some site was sufficient notice.
We are forgetting how to talk to each other, and that skill is vital for any sort of persuasion to any cause. Videos are great, blogs are great, but nothing beats eyeball to eyeball conversations. I cannot imagine, in future generations, people talking tearfully about how they were mentored and influenced via Facebook. Our friends should be flesh and blood people, not little icons on a screen. We are people first, and technology possessors at a distant second.
We’ve tried to hold back the tide on this in our family. We are trying to cope with the onslaught of electronic baubles and keep our humanity in the midst of it. We try to own the things without the things owning us. I have 4 children, and none of them have cell phones or a PED of any kind. I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon. Nobody listens to music by themselves because I don’t want 4 kids shutting themselves off from each other with head phones when they should be talking to each other. Video games are a very rare event because I don’t want a bunch of ‘vidiots’ in my house.
We don’t have a TV, but we do have a monitor hooked up to a DVD player and certain nights are designated as movie nights. We try to tame the shiny box and not let it program us way, and not allow it to suck the time out of our lives. We try to actually ‘do ‘things, instead of reading about or watching other people do the things we would be doing if we weren’t so busy watching them. Occasionally we have a no-electricity night where we don’t turn on anything electronic, be it lights or computers. Our ancestors lived this way their entire lives, and I find a wondrous thing happens to those nights; people talk to each other. They read books (rectangular things made of paper not subject to revision or redaction by the state), and they play board games. When it gets too dark to see, we all go to bed or we light up the fireplace and everybody sleeps in the living room. It really is almost a magical thing.
I’m sure we’re still doing lots of things wrong, but we are trying. Hopefully someday my children will look back fondly on the conversations and the board games and think about how great I was to be the son of a techno-hermit.