Opinion

Commentary: Our gadgets get in the way of enjoying life

MCT

A man and woman seated in front of me had gone together to see a recently released movie, but they ended up in very different places.

She sat quietly and patiently next to him at the Glenwood theater in Overland Park. Physically they were as close as a couple could be. But until the movie started, he was checking email, texting and surfing the Web with an iPhone or some similar multi-application social media device.

In cars many times I’ve noticed parents talking on cellphones or responding to email or text messages. Their children are in the same vehicles being politely silent. Precious moments in conversations the adults could have to teach and socialize their children are forever being wasted.

At many board meetings I’ve attended, laptops are open and operating on tables. BlackBerries, iPhones, cellphones and other devices beep, buzz, ring and emit other annoying noises.

The owners of the irresistible distractions answer their email, respond to texts, follow and add to Twitter feeds, and keep up with “breaking news” instead of giving their full attention to real people as well as the dollars-and-cents issues that they and others traveled hundreds of miles for.

Even in a Columbia library where I typed this column one weekend, yellow signs on the tables stated: “Need to use your cell phone? Please be considerate of other library patrons. Set your ringer to silent. Use a quiet voice when talking. Do not use your phone while working at the computers.”

No one should have to be told that in a library. But unfortunately, it is a sign of the times. These are just a few examples of how the ever-evolving, always-gripping “social media” continue to make us more anti-social.

I groused when cellphones were the latest and everyone had to have one. I ended up getting cellphones for my daughters to keep up with them, especially when they started driving as teenagers.

I got one with unlimited texting because that’s how young people communicate. But the new devices now do everything but brush your teeth and file your nails.

They are technology’s Swiss army knives, taking pictures, shooting videos, providing GPS, surfing the Web and letting people check email and text, just to name a few apps.

Baby boomers and people younger and older are mesmerized by the gadgets, and they use them every waking moment of every day.

“Did you get my text?” they ask. “Did you get my email?”

When I say no, I haven’t had time to check, friends get upset. “What else could be more important?” some ask.

“Life” is always my answer. When I am at home, I leave the gadgets in another room so I can enjoy the silence or the company of visitors.

It’s like when my daughters were younger, I kept the radio off as I drove so I could hear their conversations, laugh with them and respond in the right manner to their questions. Filling the quiet moments with three-dimensional conversations with all of the associated body language and facial expressions is more important.

LOL isn’t half as infectious as joining others in a real-time belly laugh. I keep the radio and television off when I am with friends, too, unless there is some program that we had planned to see together.

Gadgets come and go, like record players, black-and-white TVs, eight-track tape players, pay phones and VHS. What counts, what must endure are relationships we forge with one another.

Ridding the world of cellphones isn’t going to happen. That is rainfall that can’t be returned to the clouds.

What has to occur is caring, concerned people have to be smarter about using such devices. I’ve said many times when I’ve gotten lost, “How did we ever get through life without cellphones?”

When I’ve gotten turned around and no map that I keep in my van was good enough to help me, calls to the person I’m to visit have been life — and gas — savers. Cellphones, like land lines and different types of computers, are merely tools that are meant to add to our lives — not make them more hectic and complicated.

It’s up to us as individuals to put them to the best possible use for ourselves, our families and this community.

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