As a society, we are fascinated by gadgets of all kinds. Laptop computers, digital cameras, iPods, BlackBerries are our new best friends. We take them with us wherever we go, we gaze at them lovingly, we we share our deepest secrets with them. Even those of us who are technological dinosaurs, tend to at least be hip enough to have a cell phone. But, like any new drug, our high-tech toys come with potentially serious side effects.
Most of you have heard that studies have linked cell phone usage with brain damage and tumors, especially in children. But that's not exactly the kind of brain damage I'm referring to. I'm talking about behavioral rather than anatomical and physiological brain damage. You know – the kind of damage that, despite healthy neurological tissue, leaves us acting like social morons. What ever became of manners, discretion, common courtesy? Are social skills, like eight-track tapes and mullets, simply destined to become a thing of the past? And why exactly am I going on and on about this?
Well, I was recently reminded of how our love affair with electronic gadgetry can turn us into blubbering idiots. Let me share with you a tale of electronic be-witchery and human frailty.......a cautionary tale if you will.
I was in Sears the other day, walking from the shoe department to the children's department with my two kids in tow. As we passed the registers (centrally located for no one's convenience) a young woman came out of the children's department walking toward us, chatting away loudly on her cell phone. The sales clerks, my two eight-year-olds and I were treated to her end of the conversation which went like this:
“So, I went into the bathroom (dramatic pause) and I pulled down my pants and..................”
Yep, that's what she said. If the kids weren't with me I might have followed her to hear the rest. What happened when you pulled down your pants? Was anyone else in the bathroom? Was there screaming...laughter...panic? My husband suggested that I should have followed her and asked to hear the rest of the fascinating story...that maybe that would have taught her a lesson. But, well, I wasn't really in the mood for being punched in the face, so I just did my best to attempt to use what had happened as a “teaching opportunity” for my kids. “Now children, do you see why cell phones can be a nuisance and why you can't have one of your own and how they sometimes make you act like a moron?”
Well, I didn't say moron, but you get the picture. What's happening to people? What are we (or they) thinking? Did this young woman forget where she was? Was she unaware that there were other people within earshot? Did she just not care and, if not, why not?
This was just the most recent in a long list of examples demonstrating the brain damage that cell phones can cause. Many times, I have been in restaurants and seen similar episodes of ill-mannered behavior. A young woman (twenty-something) dining out with her aging parents (who were probably thrilled to have the opportunity to visit with their adult daughter) with her Bluetooth headset glued to the side of her head...you know – just in case that extremely important phone call came in – the one that couldn't possibly wait for the ten or so seconds that it might take her to reach into her purse, pull out her phone and press the “talk” button. Give me a break. Even a brain surgeon doesn't need to answer the phone that fast.
I've also watched Dad sitting at a restaurant table with his family and yammering away into his cell phone as his wife and kids try to enjoy their meals and have some frequently "shushed" conversation. Really, could it not have waited an hour... thirty minutes...twenty?
Cell phones are the most common offender for sure, but they certainly aren't the only ones. iPods can also wedge themselves in between us and the rest of the world. They really are pretty cool, but there is a time and place for everything, wouldn't you agree? Should Daddy really be walking around with his iPod on during his daughter's birthday party? He might as well be wearing a big sign that says “Back off – I'm listening to something far more interesting than you.” So much for visiting with relatives, chatting with your neighbors or just being present and noticing your daughter's childhood slipping through your fingers.
Oh, or how about when the family comes for the annual holiday get-together and your brother-in-law spends the whole visit trying out the features of his latest electronic purchase – barely looking up when it's time to come to the table for dinner? Rude, you say? Yeah, you're getting the picture. I mean we all know that it can be hard to find common ground and make conversation with extended family sometimes, but shouldn't we at least try? Wouldn't it be nice to let our family know that they are worth the effort?
Don't get me wrong. I think modern technology has given us some wonderful, new tools. Where would we be without them? I guess my point is that we just need to learn how, and when, to use them. As my Dad (and Epicurus) used to say, “Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” Well, my Dad just said “Everything in moderation.” Same idea.
All in all, when we allow our fascination with technology to overrule common courtesy and manners, isn't it time to rethink things? It's funny in a way that, by trying to make ourselves more available and accessible with cell phones and the like, we have actually made ourselves inaccessible to those whom we care about the most. Our desperate need to remain plugged in at all times makes it impossible to give anyone we are with our full attention.
You have to admit that while the conveniences offered by modern technology are nice, a rushed conversation with your son as you approach the airport counter and attempt to check-in your baggage while simultaneously listening to his tales of playground bullies and little league triumphs simply cannot replace a twenty minute bedtime conversation from your hotel room, where nothing but your son's words command your attention. Modern life is great but sometimes, the old-fashioned way really is best.
So, turn off your cell phone, push yourself away from the computer and put the iPod aside. Take a moment to give whatever you are doing or whomever you are with your full, undivided attention. Tune in the old-fashioned way. You never know what might happen.