You can’t be more connected than that! Can you?
Last Saturday morning, I was reading something on my laptop; Rheanne was catching up on her favourite TV show on her ipad; and our boys were playing games on their minis. We were all in the same room, but we might as well have been in separate houses. To give credit where credit is due, it was Rheanne who pointed out that unlike in the past we rarely sat together to watch television or a movie, instead we used whatever stolen down time that we could find to catch up on news or programming that we had missed, and the only times that we really connected as a family was when we could factor technology out altogether. Dinner conversations, trips to the playground, walks in the park, a visit to the aquarium, even driving to and from school, have become critically important family times when we can look each other in eyes and actually communicate. A recent road trip holiday to Southern California was less about rest and relaxation than it was about reconnecting as a family and having a truly joint experience.
We live in an era of “electronic town halls” which, as Neil Postman points out, bear little resemblance to their eighteenth century face to face counterparts. He calls them a “packaged, televised pseudo-event”. Information is disseminated through robo-calls or email “blasts”. Thoughtful, well-written letters to the editor reflecting on the issues of the day have been replaced by vitriolic on-line “comments” which make pronouncements, or try to score political points, without any pretence of attempting to engage in a meaningful dialogue on a topic or news story. We share “personal” stories on Facebook – in a kind of “look at me, look at me” attempt to publicize the fleeting and often mundane happenings of our day to day lives, and many of us work hard to appear clever or profound throughout the day in 140 characters or fewer on Twitter.
With so much of society permanently on “send” it is hardly surprising that cyber-bullying has become the vehicle of choice to torment and isolate vulnerable children and adults. Nor is it a shock when one political party elects a new leader, and their opponent immediately launches an electronic smear campaign to attack them. In a nation of multi-taskers and short attention spans – the sound-bite is king!
We now really do live in McLuhan’s “global village”. It is our challenge to insure that it is not a village made up of individual, isolated e-huts but rather a place where we can still hold on to the human dimension of our personal relationships. A place where we all stop before we press the send button and ask ourselves – “would we say this to a real person’s face, or have we become a dehumanized society that takes shots at each other’s impersonal avatars and screen names”?
Technology can bring us together, or drive us apart. It’s up to us to choose.