I’m usually a fairly calm and rational person. Really, I am. But when I caught my boyfriend simultaneously hugging me and responding to an e-mail on his smartphone last week, I’ll admit that I got a little twisted. There I was, a real flesh-and-blood person, and he was more interested in his electronics! He tried to justify his actions: he was expecting an important e-mail from work, and when he checked to see if it had arrived he got distracted, and . . . long story short, he couldn’t help himself. What’s worse, I couldn’t blame him.
We live in a plugged-in world. Everyone is constantly connected via e-mail, text messaging, Twitter and the like. I have learnt more about some of my oldest friends from six months of stalking their Facebook accounts than I have after 15 years of friendship — and I know now what people mean about familiarity breeding contempt, let me tell you.
And it’s no longer as easy as “just turn off your electronics.” Bosses hire employees with the expectation that they will be reachable far outside their designated office hours. Admissions committees now send acceptance letters via e-mail. Many people no longer have a house phone for family and friends to call on, meaning that by turning off your phone you run the risk of missing announcements, invitations and distress calls. In fact, it’s almost impossible to switch off these days without feeling as though we are missing out on something.
This, I believe, is the true downfall of our generation. As comedian Louis C.K. is known for saying, “When I was a kid . . . if you weren’t home, the phone would just ring lonely by itself.” Our parents left their houses with the knowledge that they might miss out on something . . . and they didn’t care. People would track them down eventually, problems would get solved, babies would be born, parties would be held, and the world would keep on spinning, even if they weren’t there to personally oversee it from their own oversupplied command centre — complete with cell phone, smartphone, laptop and PC, just in case you need to simultaneously check your e-mail and look something up on Google Maps while talking to your brother and playing Star Craft 2.
In the generations before ours, people went out and talked to each other — face to face. They sat next to strangers on the bus and struck up a conversation rather than plugging into their mp3 players. Relationships started after chance meetings in coffee shops or outrageously flirting at a friend’s birthday party. When people left the office, they left their work behind, kissed their wives, played with their children and got a good night’s rest.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And yet when my grandparents remind me to turn my cell phone off before dinner, I feel as though I have lost my right hand. The problem seems to be that although logically we know that all this time spent with our technology and away from our friends isn’t healthy for us, we simply do not know how to live any other way. We can’t throw out our technology and revert back to the Stone Age, and I wouldn’t want to even if we could.
There will always be nights when I sit with the people I love and watch TV while clicking through Facebook instead of finding out about their days. I can’t break up with technology, but maybe we can take a break from each other once in awhile. And maybe, just maybe, when technology isn’t looking, I can cheat on it with good old-fashioned fun and conversations.