The last time I was at the airport to take a flight. I stopped at a restaurant for a bite to eat before my flight took off. Like most travelers I now arrive way too earlier expecting long delays and find myself with over an hour to kill before I can board. The seen at the restaurant astonished me. The place was packed. There was a single narrow table near the front that I managed to move some luggage to reach. The place being packed didn’t amaze me at all. Lots of people were waiting for their flights. The thing that drew my attention was that nobody even noticed my arrival. The entire restaurant was seated and looking at their cell phones, tablets, or laptops. Some had headphones on and were listening to music or a show. Everyone was locked into an electronic device of their choice and oblivious to the outside world. There must have been 50 people doing this.
Nobody was talking to anyone else or even looking around to see what was going on. Each person was in their own cocoon focused on some sort of entertainment, reading the news, or texting. I just sat their and watched for about 10 minutes and nobody even made eye contact accept the waitress. She was the only person in the place who anyone would allow to break into their trance. So this is what modern technology has given us. We now have countless ways to avoid talking to each other, meeting a new person, and avoid feeling uncomfortable in a new place. We are connected online with hundreds of other people. Our virtual life is very busy. However, our real life is quite isolated and becoming more so.
Our electronic devices are becoming our primary means of communications and person to person communications is suffering. People are using them to distract themselves from the world around them. They cling to them in social situations where they are uncomfortable. Many always have headphones on. They don’t need to take the risk of talking to anyone in person. How is this improving our society exactly? How many distractions do we really need?
The promise of personal electronic devices has been that they will improve our lives somehow. I agree that I’m now more informed, can always find myself on a map, can always find a Starbucks, can get mostly dumb text messages at all times, and have lots of music, movies, and games to play. There are benefits to all this. However, let’s consider the social side affects of having all this at our finger tips constantly. Instead of looking up some nice piece of information on my device to start a conversation most just sit and look, and look, and look. The stream of stuff never ends. The music, movies, news, gossip are never ending. We are overwhelmed by it and at the same time fascinated. We are unable to put the devices down.
Go to any mall, restaurant, park, or public place in America and you’ll see more people looking at their devices than doing anything else. They check them every 5 minutes for a new message, email, or news flash. How do you live in the real world when the virtual world is so enticing and so easily accessible? If you wonder why the productivity of modern society is going down? I say look where people spend all their time? We used to have free time to think up ideas. We used to have long moments when information wasn’t being hurtling at us at breakneck speed. Lots of creativity comes from being bored. Our best ideas come from clear thinking. This only comes from discussions with real friends or when we sit quietly alone.
Real life connections with people aren’t done over an electronic device. They are made face to face. Relationships can be sustained over email, text message, etc. However, they are best established in person or at least on the phone. If you’re feeling alone or isolated, put down your smart phone and talk to somebody. The person sitting beside you with their faced locked into their tablet is really bored to death and craving a real life interaction. Say Hello.
By Joe Parker