Sometimes they say a moment in time can change your life, but what if we are too distracted to notice it happening? A good friend sent me a link that not only captured my attention but also got me really thinking – what are we doing to ourselves with all our gadgets and gizmos but participating in anti-social networking. This reality hit me in the head like an avalanche of iPads falling off a cliff.
Look Up by Gary Turk is a short film that depicts a man who stops and asks a woman for directions. They end up dating, marrying, having a family, and we even see them as grandparents, but then we flash backwards and witness another version of the story. The man is so busy looking down and using his iPhone, that the woman walks by and he never sees her. All those possibilities, those images of a potential future, shatter and he is left utterly alone.
This got me thinking of my own family. When we sit down in the living room on any given evening, the television is on, and yet we are all looking down at devices – iPod, iPad, laptop, or hand-held game. Whatever it is we are doing is isolated, and the communication being done is internally manifested, thus we are only connecting with a vast external pool of faceless beings with whom we have either never met or do not see. Maybe we should call it the existing room rather than the living room.
I guess after watching the video a few times, and still having it affect me deeply upon subsequent viewings, I took the matter seriously after not facing the truth for a long time. Look Up sends a message of monumental and crucial importance that must be heeded. We all need to keep our eyes on the real world rather than being sucked into the seductive but vapid virtual world.
Taking it beyond not meeting one’s soul mate, this calls to mind a number of videos about the dangers of social media while driving. In a particularly gruesome one British girls are in a car and the driver is using her cell phone, causing a horrific accident. Indeed, if only she had “looked up” it would have saved her friends’ lives and the lives of people in the other cars. In a cruel twist of fate, she survives.
Whether it is missing a chance of a lifetime or to save a life, the way we have been pulled into this virtual abyss is rather alarming. By foregoing the dubious pleasures of constantly texting, surfing the web, or sending emails, perhaps we can move toward a place where there is more human interaction. I recall my father wanting conversation at the dinner table and, may he rest in peace, if I had taken out a game and kept quiet and looked down during a meal, I would have been slapped upside the head.
If you go to a baseball game, a movie, or even a wedding, people are looking down at their handheld devices while the action is taking place. Now when people go out to dinner – which used to be a premium opportunity for conversation – it is common to see couples and even groups using their devices instead of talking. Believe it or not, I have witnessed a couple actually texting one another while sitting right at the same table. The salient point is not how far we have fallen from true socializing but why it has taken this long for many of us to wake up and smell the electronic burn. Perhaps we have become increasingly anti-social because so-called social media has alienated us from the most crucial forms of human communication – in person interaction.
Long ago Samuel B. Morse demonstrated the telegraph to Congress by sending off a message to Baltimore – “What hath God wrought?” In 1844 this moment sort of set the stage for all that social networking to come, and Morse’s quotation of the Biblical passage (Numbers 23:23) qualified the situation admirably. Human beings could communicate beyond their personal space across distances, and that was a game changer, but what the ramifications were could never have been imagined at the time.
Now all these years later we text someone at great distances and expect a response almost immediately – as if this person is sitting there waiting for the text. The problem with texting is a need for instant gratification, sort of this just happened and the world needs to know about it now. In the past you took a long walk and were unreachable, but now courtesy of your smart phone you are sharing pictures of what you encounter along the way. Never mind stopping to smell the roses; I’ll take a picture of them and text it.
The need to relate minutiae of the most arcane or absurd kind knows no bounds. I have received texts with images of ice cream sundaes, restaurant entrees, muddy sneakers, sunsets, traffic jams, and flat tires. The list could go on and on ad nauseum. The point is that we have taken the ridiculous and justified it as meaningful, and we have defined our social worthiness by people we have never met and allow to become our “friends,” and then to add to the incongruity, we become friends with the friends of people we’ve never met. In some cases on work related sites we allow people we do not know or have never met to recommend or endorse us without even knowing who we are and what we do. In short, social networking has verified its own redundancy by being so relevant in our daily lives that it has reached the point of absurdity.
Still, try to take away the iPod from a 13 year old, and you can conjure up images of a battle on the sands of Iwo Jima. Talk about an “electronic free evening” and you get “this is so boring.” Our old boxed games like Monopoly and Life gather dust on the shelf, for they are “too slow” and “make no sense.” Don’t even try to bring up checkers or dominoes, because dinosaurs wearing flannel shirts used to play them in the old days in Ogg’s Stone Age general store.
Our dependency on our electronic devices has reached a narcotic level, and the fear of going cold turkey is too hard to even consider. Whether we are driving a car, standing on a subway platform, or walking along the street, using a handheld device can be detrimental to our health and the safety of others. We have all seen those videos of the person using a cell phone while walking and falling into a fountain, down a flight of stairs, or off onto the train tracks. Sure, maybe you laughed the first time you saw it, but what if it was revealed that a train came at that moment, or if the person broke a limb or fell on someone else?
Obviously, we have gone too far to turn back. There is going to be more of the virtual in our lives and less reality, and we know it. The need for devices and electronic connections will keep growing, and in the workplace we will have no choice but to accept this as a fact of life; however, in our personal lives we can try to take control of the way we use technology and not allow it to subsume our existence. Life and time are far too precious to waste opportunities to truly connect, to see someone in person, shake his or her hand, and get to know one another the old fashioned way.
At this point I know I will still use my devices, but I will push myself to “look up” more. I will encourage my family to shut off our devices and try to talk about the day, even if only for a short time each evening. I will remind friends and family that there is a time for texting, and that it is never done while driving, walking, or operating heavy machinery.
I think we all should cut back our use of devices and limit our dependency on the virtual world, or we will face dire consequences in the long run. We do not want to be the person who looks up too late as the world passes us by or the train, bus, or car is bearing down on us. Sadly, then it will be too late to do anything in this world. What hath God wrought indeed!
Photo credits: linked in, sharekool.com, thekingsenglish.com, end gadget.com
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