Cutting across the trail, apparently en route from school to their homes, two young boys wandered together, saying little to each other, listening to the far more important sounds reverberating from the older boy’s handheld electronic device. “Gotta get you some weed / gotta get me some weed” was all I heard the singer rap through background music that sounded no finer than what a Fisher Price keyboard could produce. The youngest boy, about seven, looked up to the twelve-year-old and his video screen often. Both meandered on, heads glued to flashy images, ears attending solely to the song.
Later in the day, strolling through the vibrant Santa Fe Plaza filled with people and activity, I noticed a teen sitting on a bench by herself, immersed in her own world, never looking up from her iPhone screen. It was as if a fifteen foot bubble existed around her, keeping out a world of invaders who might enter her space.
Perhaps she was actually trying to connect, not disconnect from the world. It’s the way it’s done now, through a text, a Facebook message, a tweet, a whatever. In the act of finger digit communication, however, it seems everyone who is making these connections is alone while doing it. And perhaps the boys I saw walking through my neighborhood earlier were good friends. Yet, in their wordless comradeship, electronic images and words – some entertaining, some very dangerous – were bombarding their young existence.
And here I am right now, and have been for many hours, writing in the privacy of my own room. I have the convenience of my laptop to connect with my website, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, sending my thoughts out to the entire world of people. Not only that, but I’m connected to my bank and a myriad of businesses, making my life easier to manage. Who really needs face time, anyway?
I had fifty years of non-tech living, fifty years of making contact “the old-fashioned” way through one-to-one friendships and relationships, assisted only by a telephone to call someone about getting together later. Call me a betweener, a man sandwiched like a floppy disc between toast and tablet, but I am concerned for those who have used modern technology their entire adult lives; even more the kids who have been raised on it. Electronic devices at first seem to expand, if not improve, connection with others. But kids and teens are all over these devices and I wonder about the quality of their connections made.
What a mess kids of techie parents must be. Electronic gadgets will be all those kids ever know, right? And what about the Steve Jobs of the world? Their kids must have every gadget imaginable to use.
Not true. Steve Jobs didn’t help invent the most amazing technological devices because he was stupid. In a recent revealing New York Times article, author Nick Bilton writes how Jobs and other tech CEOs put serious restrictions on their kid’s use of technology, not vice versa. These entrepreneurs say they’ve seen the dangers of technology firsthand – the bullying from other kids, pornography, and kids becoming addicted to their devices. The CEOs agree children under ten are the most susceptible to addiction. Some CEOs don’t allow their children any gadgets during the week. Some don’t allow screens in the bedroom. Some allow unlimited gadget use so long as their kids are in the living room, but that’s all. And, perhaps not surprising at all, Jobs said he made it a point that every evening the family ate dinner together to discuss “books and a variety of things. No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer.” The tech industry giants have been smart enough to realize not only the rewards from technology, but the danger they present to kids and adults alike. But what about all those who not only use devices daily but rely on them for business as well as social and deeply human needs?
My downfall from electronic advancements was television. To this day, I wonder if I’ve learned just as much about life from watching characters and stories presented on a screen than I have from real life experiences. I’ve logged a lot of home television and movie house screen time. For the same reason today’s kids love to focus on a screen, so did I. So perhaps it’s only suitable I use an example from a movie to help amplify the issue of tech devices in our world.
Catching me totally off guard when I saw it five years ago, I was blown away by the film, “Disconnect.” It’s about kids and adults who are all attached to their cell phones and gadgets and can’t find the time to communicate with their families. There’s a couple who’s drawn into a dangerous situation when their secrets are exposed online. A widowed ex-cop struggles to raise a mischievous son who cyber-bullies a classmate. An ambitious journalist sees a career-making story in a teen that performs on an adult-only site. With so much technology at their fingertips to connect in today’s wired world, they are still strangers, all whose stories collide with explosive and sometimes tragic result.
This week, I feel I’ve witnessed a hollowness that real flesh and blood people in my very own neighborhood are feeling. In my gut, something feels wrong to me. I’m torn between two worlds, yet cling to the one I know best, the old-fashioned variety, all while realizing I’m writing tonight in the comfort – and isolation – of my private world, relying 100% on technology to get my message out.
Using a word check to review this writing, I’ve just been alerted I’ve used the word “connection” far too many times. But that’s not surprising. Human connection is, and always be, one of the greatest needs we have, in whatever form it takes. Yet, even in our modern world, it’s difficult to avoid fuzzy connections, both electronic and interpersonal.