As the earth took its last rotation around the sun to complete our calendar year 2016, I began looking back at my photo albums — obviously I mean the iPhoto albums on my computer — and I didn’t stop at one year, because of the amazing technology we’re now so accustomed to — I cruised back in time to my toddler days, and just by revisiting the clothing, the hair styles, the group shots, the housing, the way people gathered, the activities we engaged in — basically everything … I’m in awe at how this world has changed since those early days when I was a kid. A lot of my family photos are of us camping, or going to the beach or to national parks with family and friends, or holding family pets. We had bar-b-ques, and picnics, and we went on hikes. These adventures, thank God, were memorialized by my mom on film (which I later scanned for my computer).
Wow. I know, I’m 65, but still — it’s like night and day. First of all, nobody was holding a cell phone. Can you imagine? Probably not. Amazing!
I could never have imagined that our present as well as our future would have the potential to change so dramatically. So much good has come from the advances that have been made — entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, artists, writers, inventors, biologists, agriculturalists — the list is practically endless — have made life better for billions of people across the globe. We know so much about each other now. We’re a global economy, and we are more interconnected now than ever before.
Yet, with all these gains, I look around at people on the street, in their cars, in restaurants, on their cell phones, locked into a private world of non-stop interconnectivity with a gadget, and I wonder if we’ve lost something along the way too. Are we really connecting? Have we developed more compassion, more understanding, and more empathy for one another, as one would have imagined we would with so much information readily available about each other? Are we more in touch? Or are we having difficulty reaching out and actually touching someone?
Cell phone technology has changed life forever, in ways nobody could have predicted. Children in grammar school, junior high, and high school are literally becoming addicted to cell phone and tablet technology. According to Michele Borja, Ed.D., author of UnSelfie, this dependency is an unhealthy trend. It seems that we are allowing our cell phones to infringe on our face-to-face time…on what used to be our family time, and our intimate time with friends and lovers. It happens in my own family too. It’s hard not to succumb to the allure of it. We’ve become used to our cell phone’s siren call, reliant upon it, addicted to it. Need an answer to a question? Look at your phone and tap Google. Has it been 30 seconds since you looked at your email or Snapchat? OMG. Have you seen the latest funniest animal video? Better check it out on YouTube. How about your WhatsApp? Somebody might have posted something. Is it important? Could be. More important than the person you’re sitting with? Who knows.
It doesn’t even matter if you’re having dinner with someone you love. The cell phone is all important. ‘I just need to take this call.’ ‘I have to answer this email.’ Work has become 24/7. Nothing can wait. The cell phone is the thing of all things. It takes precedence over all even if you’re not working.
The problem with this cell phone interconnectivity trend is that people are more impatient than ever now. They have lost the art of calm. Of waiting. Of listening. Is it because they are constantly wondering if they missed something? Are they wondering if they should be looking at their phone to catch another email, text, instagram, Snapchat or whatever, so they won’t be left out?
Sadly, we’ve set our kids up to forget how to look at each other in the face to have a conversation. They have wandering eyes. Short attention spans. They can’t settle down and relax, most probably because they haven’t seen us do it. We’re their role models, and many of us can’t settle down and relax either. Where’s your phone right now? I know, we’re all doing it. But while we’re all checking our phones to make sure we don’t miss something, we’re missing something right in front of us.
Growing up in the fifties, there was a simplicity in the commonplace that I rarely see these days. We’ve become quite sophisticated — too good for the sack lunch, I suppose. We need to have fancy stackable containers, or designer bags. We need gluten free, and name brand anything. We need green smoothies with kale. This current crop of kids has never heard of canned Spam or fried bologna sandwiches. We of the Western Hemisphere are all pretty spoiled. That’s not to say you need to be spoiled to own a phone. Not so. A cell phone has become a necessity in this world, and I’m not suggesting we disavow it. We couldn’t and we shouldn’t. We just need to be aware of the changes it is making in our social behavior.
In the lower middle-class neighborhood I grew up in, there were tight-knit communities, and a sense of sharing. Much more of a collectivist than individualist mindset among neighbors. Pot-luck dinners were typical. Friends could drop by for a visit without an elaborate invitation, and kids could play outside until dark.
I was from the generation of Makers. Everyone had to be a Maker, of sorts, to get by. Most people couldn’t afford to pay others do things for them, so they learned how to do things for themselves, or asked for help from their buddies. My dad built our house with his own hands, for example, with the help of several friends. They studied construction plans, and figured it out together. My mom and her girlfriends took turns washing, setting, and styling each other’s hair. Is it just me, or did people get together to help each other out more often back then?
There was only one phone in our house, and in the earliest days of that technology, it was a party line, which meant we shared it with another family. Sharing was a big deal. Kids were taught to share because, first of all, families couldn’t afford to buy each kid their own “thing.” Toys, and clothes, and even shoes were often passed down from one to the other. And secondly, it was ‘nice’ to share. We were taught to share as part of our moral compass. Kindness was a part of that compass too.
People took the bus even if they owned a car, because they could save on gas money. Families used the national and state parks and beaches as gathering places for recreation because these locations were not only fun, they were economical, and very often free. And besides, we all loved being outdoors, and appreciated nature for the beauty and relaxation it afforded us. You could actually take the time to toss a ball, or just lay back on a blanket and watch the clouds drift by in a baby-blue sky. Time well spent. Whole days went by without anyone talking on a phone. None of us can imagine that now. And don’t get me wrong — I don’t see a way back. But in going forward, we need to register the fact that empathy, compassion and kindness are feelings that are taught by being with people, and understanding them. Face to face. These feelings are taught from a young age. It doesn’t happen over a cell phone.
As I reminisce about the good old days, I do acknowledge how tough it was too. But I’ve come to recognize that our hardships are very often what help to stir the pot of creativity where solutions to problems are created. I am grateful for all the adversity. Clearly, I can say that in hindsight, because hindsight is twenty-twenty vision. And I can appreciate my failures now because I know they were merely stepping stones to my successes.
And I’m glad we have more than one phone in our house, and that we don’t have a party line, and truly grateful to have a cell phone. More than one. But still. I see the danger signs too.
As I sit here in a beautiful place on the planet, cell phone in hand, thumbs working overtime writing this piece, I’m excited and a little trepidatious about what may await us in 2017. I’ve read Twitter. There will be plenty of changes. I can state that as a certainty, for change is the one and only thing we can be sure of. I hope there will be some good ones. I’ll try to be part of the good ones.
For my part to make 2017 better, I’ve decided to listen more, to connect more — to put away my cell phone when I’m with other people, so I can connect with them, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart. I’m going to the park more too. Without my phone. With my puppy. I think that will be a good start.
Originally published at medium.com