I read a great opinion piece today in the New York Times (online) titled “How Not to Be Alone.” It’s a commentary on our use of technology and how it’s making us less connected in so many intimate ways.
Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.
The author discusses how easy it is to retreat into our devices to avoid situations or at least ignore them. When we hear something uncomfortable or we’re feeling awkward in a social situation, we can pull out our smart phone, if we have one, and pretend to be distracted.
The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care.
I was observing people on my train ride into Tokyo the other day, just observing people and their use of technology. A woman with her baby strapped on her front in a baby carrier was busily texting or searching something on her phone. The baby meanwhile looked at everything–out the window, up at the ceiling, at the people standing just in front of her. The baby couldn’t get enough of the world that was so new.
I was with my daughter and talked to her about how when she was younger, I didn’t have a smart phone, and she got a lot of undivided attention. Sometimes, I think it was too much. She had all of me. But I wasn’t distracted. I am now. I have a smart phone. I check my email a lot. I look at my Facebook as I’m standing in line at the grocery store. I tweet at the gym. I text friends or make appointments as I’m out and about. I’m distracted. I haven’t sat back enough and thought about if it’s making me care less.
I like this quote: Each step “forward” has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.
Can a phone or a device convey humanity? Good question. I’m not sure it can.
Tomorrow, my students are giving up their one-on-one laptops they’ve had all year. They said their goodbyes today until next year, and I’ve had to rethink what we’ll do for the next week. We love our technology. We have used it to connect. But I also notice that when given a free moment, the students pull out their laptops and get absorbed. With headphones on, they’re scrolling through a million tabs and games. They’re not really with me or our class.
I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.
As we end the year and I say goodbye to my students, I want to remind myself as well as them of the importance of connection. My parting words to them might just be the last words of this great opinion piece:
Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.