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Friend or foe?  Or new family member?

Friend or foe? Or new family member?

I can still remember a time when you walked out the door and left technology behind you. Sure, you got into a car and walked into stores with air conditioning, but you left the gadgets at home. Phones rang endlessly because no one was at home, and you missed whatever was playing on television because you went out to socialize instead. Losing the programming from all two of those channels was no great loss anyway. From May to September you were living off reruns, and Sunday afternoons afforded nothing better than golf – the dregs of entertainment. Even kids lost all interest in that magical box other than Saturday mornings, when cartoons reigned supreme for four hours. These days children have access to entire stations that stream talking sponges nonstop. Oh, the progress we have made. But perhaps we have also ensnared ourselves with our modern conveniences. Now instead of being able to leave your work at the office, you can access your email on a screen the size of a saltine cracker right from your purse. And instead of leaving that ringing contraption at the house, friends and family members expect you to answer the phone anytime they deem to hit the Call button under your name. I don’t really think we have a grip on technology; I think it’s the other way around.

I ate supper with my best friend a few nights ago in celebration of her birthday. While the restaurant may be modest by New York standards, in my small town the local Japanese steak house is one of the premier places to feast, so I marveled as I watched the family of three across the reflective grill. The wife never took her eyes off of her phone.

About thirty seconds after they sat down, she got a call. She proceeded to talk for the next twenty minutes. She chatted through the drink and meal order, through the wonton soup, and through the salad with the yummy ginger dressing. Her husband and daughter talked briefly to each other, but it was hard for them to compete with her. Shannon and I were having a hard time, and we were clear across the steaming pit, at least four paper lanterns away. She was even still talking when the chef rolled out his cart and started tossing eggs in the air, but when flames rose three feet off the grill and threatened her Lifeproof case, she finally told Jojo she’d call her back. As if there was anything left to say at this point.

And now you’re thinking that after leaving her family in a communication desert for the length of time that it takes to watch a Big Bang episode that this woman would shape up and mind her manners. You’d be wrong. As soon as she ended the call, she went head down, totally absorbed in her screen. The only time she spoke to her daughter was to point out an interesting update on somebody’s Facebook page. She missed the onion volcano, the Asian fireworks, and the pulsing fried rice heart spatula. I think our chef could have set himself on fire and she wouldn’t have noticed, although her poor husband looked bored enough to give it a try.

At the end of the hour, the husband finally pulled Mrs. Facebook away from all the interesting posts on the latest in fabric softener and the calorie count consumed by the “friend” she’s never really liked anyway, and they rose from the table, her thumb still on the move. The wife left behind an entire plate of steak and shrimp since she’d been too engrossed to eat. She should have just tossed her $25 on the grill and watched it burn, but I doubt she could have spared the time away from her network.

“You know,” I said to Shannon as I chased the last of my fried rice with chopsticks, “I hope we never get to the point that we can’t have a conversation because our scrolling gets in the way.”

Shannon nodded. “At least if the chef had torched my eyebrows, she would have been Johnny on the spot with 911.”

Β© 2014 – Traci Carver

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31 responses »

  1. I hope Shannon wouldn’t wait for that woman to realize that there was a real-life emergency that required her extracting herself from her FB updates. πŸ˜‰

    The scene in the restaurant you described is so sad. How much they lose out by not making face-to-face communication.

    About the phone … I no longer answer it until I recognize the number on Caller I.D. or the voice of the caller. I avoid a lot of telemarketers that way.

    • If that woman had been too absorbed to notice the flaming facial features, I’m sure ten others within eyeshot would have had their cell phones handy.
      Good for you for having a phone stance! I’m just old-fashioned enough to still think that my phone should serve me, not the reverse πŸ˜‰

  2. Just returned from NYC myself with the Florida Worship Choir. We had the privilege of singing at Carnegie Hall, Central Park and Brooklyn Tabernacle, what a trip. Would have loved to have seen you when you stopped by our great city, maybe next time. I heard through the grapevine you are moving to our lovely state! Do tell, is there a male interest here?

    Your post was ‘da bomb, as kids say today. Right on target. I have a very good friend, you may know her, who said, “there is nothing more beautiful than a well constructed sentence.” How true and how rare these days. Keep ’em coming Traci, you never miss the mark.

    • What a fabulous trip, Carolyn! I’m sure you made some wonderful memories.

      I will be in residence in the lovely Sunshine State! I’m taking my time in choosing a place, and yes, there’s someone special on the other end πŸ™‚ I’ll continue my reign of terror on unsuspecting literature students, so it’s a positive change all the way around!

  3. I’m the first to admit I love a bit of technology but there is a time and a place. Sadly, many people don’t seem
    to realise this. I hate when people do that.

    • People give teenagers a bad reputation about technology, but it’s an equal opportunity addiction. Adults fall prey just as much as kids.

  4. So guilty of this. But makes me think that I can and should do better…πŸ˜”to put my phone down and talk to my kids.

    • I finally broke down in the spring of 2012 and got a cell phone. It took me about 30 minutes to fall in love with it, but I saw what an easy trap it is. I love the idea of having times when I’m “cell phone free” just to remind myself that I can go over an hour without checking for a text πŸ™‚

    • That’s it exactly! The technology should be at our disposal, not the other way around. Summer is off to a great start: lots of reading and some day trips with family πŸ™‚

  5. Some future day that woman will wonder why her daughter isn’t part of her life- you know, like the Harry Chapin song. She is a perfect example of how not to act. Your post was a great read- as always !

    • I bet that if she ever tries to confiscate her daughter’s phone, the girl will just look at her like, “Yeah, right! You can’t live without one, so how do you expect me to?”

  6. Great post. As a teacher, I am torn between getting rid of cell phones and teaching students how to use them as a tool for learning. I give an extra credit assignment each year during the Transcendentalist Unit where I ask the students to go tech free for a weekend. Most kids won’t even try it.

    • That assignment is a sad and realistic commentary of our day. You might as well ask an alcoholic to hand over the bottle. I made a decision a couple of years ago that even iPads were banned during my class. Could they use them to take notes? Sure. But the second you take an eye off of them, they’re playing games. They’re too immature to handle the temptation.

  7. Spot on observations. I notice how many of my students are positively addicted to their devices even when they know if caught there is the strict confiscation policy they can’t resist texting during class.

    • It is an addiction! I knew that about teenagers, but I was horrified to see it in the mom in the story. What type of example is she setting for the child? And the fact that she couldn’t even take time to eat … how sobering!

  8. I have to ask, Traci, are these smart-phones in the photo confiscated from your students one day?

    One nice thing about going to Mother’s house is that there is no technology to speak of: One push-button phone downstairs and a rotary phone in her bedroom, and that’s it. Well, there’s the TV . . . .

    One bad thing about visiting Mom is no internet service. Unless I want to operate from a screen the “size of a saltine cracker,” I have to drive to the library. But we have slow, face to face conversations at dinner, less distraction, which is at the heart of the matter.

    Next Monday, grandsons Curtis and Ian come for the day. One has a Knabe, the other a Kindle Fire. Both distractions. Shall we confiscate them when then come in the door? Set time boundaries? This is a good reminder to ask their parents about that. Thanks again for a super-duper post, Traci.

    • That lovely photo of phones happened because I told my kids I needed a shot of cell phones for my blog. They’re very supportive … as long as you return them immediately πŸ™‚
      I’m an anomaly for my generation: no TV, no internet, no dishwasher, no computer at home. People can’t believe I live in such a state of destitution, but considering their monthly bills along with the aggravation they suffer each time one of those goes on the fritz, I’m quite happy as a hermit.
      High tea, on the other hand, is a necessity of life. See you soon, Marian!

  9. I loved this post…I deliberately try to avoid the computer on weekends but still very hard, and it takes much willpower, to avoid emails etc. I recently heard a great idea: when you’re out with friends, everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table and the first one to reach out to answer has to pick up the tab for the rest of the group πŸ™‚ Haven’t tried it yet but very tempted at times…

    • I love that idea! My best friend and I rarely glanced at our phones during our afternoon together (maybe 6 hours) because we savor the rare moments that we have for just the two of us to talk without the little ears of her three girls around. No post on a screen should be more important than the person you’re with πŸ™‚

  10. Something similar has been going around *gasp* Facebook recently. It’s a short video of someone trying to interact with all of these people who are so engrossed in their phones that they never even look up. Our youngsters are now on a 10 AM screen fast each day since summer arrived. It’s been a lesson in using their imaginations for them, and a lesson in patience for me as they learn how to use their brains. *sigh*

  11. Your observations are so right on, Traci. We are slowly (or not so slowly, actually) evolving into a society of multi-taskers capable of plugging into multiple devices yet incapable of truly plugging into one another face to face. My wife and I noticed the anxiety level of our kids growing exponentially since getting to the age when social media is a constant routine. With it, their attention span and ability to communicate and even read simple body language has dwindled. We instituted a rule of having unplugged family dinner every night at 7:30 p.m., during and after which there are no more electronics. We have a docking station where their devices go every night because they were staying up at all hours on Facebook, Tweeting, etc. I think of the electronics age similar to Prometheus bringing fire to man; it can either warm us or burn us. And in my opinion, we’re dangerously close to losing control of this new element.

    I’d expand on this, but I need to leave time for a selfie…

    Really great post, Traci πŸ˜‰

    • Bravo to you and your wife, Ned, for making your kids unplug in the evening! I’m sure they consider it a form of abuse, but just as you wouldn’t allow them to eat candy for three meals a day, forcing them to make eye contact and actually speak to real humans is also essential for healthy development. πŸ™‚ Being able to put down a cellular device has become just as important as learning to use one.

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