Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Shut That Damned Thing Off"

The communications and technology explosion has been a mixed blessing. While it's true that electronic gizmos have revolutionized the way we live, they have come at a price to our physical and mental well-being. Generations before ours dealt with emerging technology, but at a much less dizzying pace. They had time to absorb new developments before the next big one came down the pike. Today, we barely have time to grasp the latest marvel spawned by technology before the next one is upon us.

I'm sure being older contributes to this, but I think even younger people are affected, perhaps in a different way. While most seniors are baffled by all the new "aps" on their cell phones and can't be bothered keeping up, young people are mesmerized by, and literally addicted to them. They get upset when they can't simultaneously make a phone call, surf the Internet, watch a TV show and download their resting heart rate to the Mayo Clinic. They are like electronics junkies desperate for newer and faster ways to satisfy their communications cravings without realizing the toll this compulsion is taking on them.

A walk in the park for a few moments peace turns into an hour-long cell phone conversation with the very people that are stressing them out. Nobody just drives anymore, as if that isn't enough to concentrate on in this traffic-plagued city, but they also talk or text behind the wheel. Today's Daily News had an item about young police officers who text frequently while on duty. What is it about sweet silence that troubles people? Are they afraid to be alone with their thoughts for a half-hour? Maybe they don't have any thoughts to be alone with.

The workplace is another area where people are so busy reading and answering meaningless e-mails that they have no time to actually work. High-paid managers are pecking out their own correspondence because all the much lower-paid secretaries who could do it cheaper and better have been eliminated for economic reasons; false economy to be sure. When a manager goes on vacation, he/she takes along the Blackberry and the laptop. What kind of vacation is that? Back in the day, vacation meant vacation; nobody called you unless the ceiling was falling down!

Finally, there is the effect of electronic addiction on the children. I got a kick out of the recent announcement from Disney (who now owns the "Baby Einstein" company) that the "educational" videos produced under that label are not at all educational, and maybe even harmful to children under 2 who watch too often. There was a lawsuit brought by parents who discovered that watching Baby Einstein videos did not turn their kids into prodigies. Duh. Read the kid a book. Most kids would probably prefer to watch TV, play video games or sit in front of a computer rather than play outside in the fresh air. Very sad, as are the growing problems of childhood obesity and low social interaction skills.

Technology is changing the way we live, but not always for the better.


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