Posts tagged culture

Real Life in HD

It’s spring, and the world outside your back door is changing. Have you noticed? I mean really noticed. Really noticing means sitting outside to watch the sunrise/set, putting a few flowers or vegetables into the soil or a pot, quietly watching the early-morning bustling of the birds as they prepare their nests, or going for a stroll to take in the plethora of sights, smells and sounds of this season that is characterized by new life and unstoppable growth.

Many years ago this would have been a silly question. Which Canadian wouldn’t want to spend as much time as possible out of doors in May after having been cooped up for the previous six months? While I still want to believe that this has not really changed, I am afraid that for some people, it has.

In a recent episode of Doc Zone on CBC television I was amazed – nay, repulsed – to learn of the effect BlackBerries and the like are having on our collective brains and behaviours. Texting, though a very recent phenomenon, has taken the world by storm and has invaded every place in our society. A study was done on a university campus to test people’s ability to multi-task. Observers recorded the reactions of students walking across campus to a clown riding around on a unicycle. Not surprisingly, 100% of those engaged in conversation with an in-person friend noticed the clown. Only 25% of those busy texting did. The surprising (and worrying) fact was, that most of those conversing with their online friends in egregious English (can you tell I’m not a texter?) actually claimed to be completely aware of their surroundings while engaged in the act of texting. This obviously raises issues like people’s ability to control a vehicle safely while being distracted by the use of technology.

The issue of texting and driving is not a new one, and I do not wish to discuss it here, although it certainly does need to be addressed. It seems odd to me, though, that the only time we will consider a behaviour harmful or even destructive, is if it takes the life of, or seriously injures someone. Is anyone talking about the broader impact on relationships in a world where people care more about what their friends in a virtual place are doing, rather than what’s going on right in front of their noses?

Although this documentary addresses texting in particular, I would implicate other virtual communication platforms in the same crime of destroying relationships. Before everything I say here gets discredited as being the crazy words of a hopeless traditionalist, let me say that I am not against the use of technology. There is a place for facebook, e-mail, cell phones and texting. We must admit to a collective problem, however, when people are checking themselves into internet de-tox centres to become free of their addictions (ironically enough, the centre I’m referring to in Washington is only a few kilometers away from Microsoft itself…). 

Before we shake our heads though at people who are “so far gone” as to need help to quit an addiction to technology, I would challenge each of us to consider our own behaviour. What is the longest you can comfortably be away from facebook? What if you were to lose your cell phone? Provided you do not need to be reached for work reasons, how quickly would you need to replace it? I would even challenge some of those work reasons, however. We tend to believe that we are irreplaceable, and that all hell will break lose if we are not available for comment. If even Green Party leader Elizabeth May can get by without a cell phone, most of us probably could as well.

I would challenge each of us to consider what would really happen if we were to get off the technology treadmill for a few days – maybe even weeks – this summer. Remember, ten years ago most of us had no cell phone and were not on facebook, and yet the world turned even then. Twenty years ago most of us would have spent long weekends outside in the garden or with in-person friends. Fifty years ago we would have actually sat outside on lovely spring evenings instead of staring at an LCD screen in the basement. Does anybody out there even care, or am I the only one?

The real question is, does all of this preoccupation with technology really make us any happier? I use the term “preoccupation” instead of “use” purposely. Most of the technology we use is not a means to any useful end – it’s a distraction from the useful end. Is a job really that terrific if you’re always “on”? Even doctors have times when they call in a replacement and go on holidays. Are you really that much more in-demand than the person whose mandate it is to save lives on a daily basis? Emergency personnel get days off – lots of them. This is so that they do not get burned out by their stressful professions, and can continue to serve and protect with excellence. Are we, in our everyday lives giving ourselves that opportunity for refreshment?

A compelling point brought up by some experts interviewed for the CBC documentary was that all of this point-form speech and one-dimensional communication is actually making people incapable of having a deep thought. We are becoming a society of puddle-dwellers, incapable of devoting any appreciable time to pursuits such as creativity, which requires time and depth in order to unfold. According to the experts, our capacity for anything more involved than “lol!” and “lmao!” is disappearing. So what are we going to do about it?

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