(Dis)connected

As people sometimes say in their snarkier moods: I have a dumb-phone.  It doesn’t do anything “smart.”  I just use it to make and receive phone calls, period.  (I know, what a concept.)  It doesn’t surf the Web; it doesn’t tell me where to eat–indeed, it doesn’t tell me anything.  It does take pictures, but in terms of resolution, I’m not sure there’s even a “mega-” in front of “pixels.”

I have, however, begun using a Wi-Fi tablet (the Nexus 7), which will take up much of the technological slack.  I’m thinking of it as an e-reader on steroids, giving me access to my e-books and to the rest of the Web.  But what I don’t want is to get sucked into a vortex of gaming and surfing.  And I don’t want to be connected to the Internet in a way that disconnects me from the people right there in the room with me.

Have you ever noticed that odd moment when a roomful of people goes quiet because everyone’s looking at their phones?  Often it’s because something comes up in the conversation that begs to be Googled.  But it might not stop there.  Hey, might as well check my email…  I’ll just respond to this one message…  Maybe just check my Facebook…

There’s a reason, for example, that we’re not supposed to text when we drive; texting leaves less of our attention to give to the road.  True, some people are better at driving while multitasking.  And we’re likely to assume that we’re in that category–but on the basis of what evidence?  That nothing bad has happened yet?  The research is clear: anything that distracts our attention while driving–including texting, using a cell phone (even hands free), having a conversation, or even just listening to music–increases the risk of an accident.  The fact that we haven’t had an accident doesn’t necessarily mean we’re more skilled than anyone else.  It may simply mean we’ve been lucky not to be driving distracted in the wrong place at the wrong time.

All that to say this: smart-phones and tablets–iPhones, iPads, and their kin–are both wonderful tools and supremely compelling distractions.  To be sure, we use our devices to share interests and information, play together, or further a conversation.  But the pull of the Internet may also disconnect a significant portion of our attention from the people around us.

We don’t mean it, and may not be aware that we’re doing it.  But we should ask ourselves if we want to multitask our relationships.  Because if the answer is no, then we may need to be more intentional about how we use those devices, so that our online connection doesn’t come at the expense of connecting with others right here, right now, face-to-face.

7 thoughts on “(Dis)connected

  1. I agree completely with all your points. To be sure, there is a lot of value in these devices, in that we can search and share info in a way that didn’t exist before the Internet age. The biggest downside, however, is that these same devices “seem” to be creating divisions between friends, family and acquaintances. I’ve seen it in Starbucks, restaurants and other places, where individuals are communicating with these devices, rather than engaging in conversations with the people at their tables. But even when they are engaging in some kind of conversation with a person, their focus is still on that little device . . . stealing glances at it, as they sip their coffee or consume a morsel of food. It’s an irony that I still cannot fathom, in that these devices create an atmosphere in which connecting with real people, face-to-face, has oftentimes taken a backseat. This has been my observation, and as much as I love the information age, I do think that we have all become quite (dis) connected from each other for the most part.

  2. I agree completely with all your points. To be sure, there is a lot of value in these devices, in that we can search and share info in a way that didn’t exist before the Internet age. The biggest downside, however, is that these same devices “seem” to be creating divisions between friends, family and acquaintances. I’ve seen it in Starbucks, restaurants and other places, where individuals are communicating with these devices, rather than engaging in conversations with the people at their tables. But even when they are engaging in some kind of conversation with a person, their focus is still on that little device . . . stealing glances at it, as they sip their coffee or consume a morsel of food. It’s an irony that I still cannot fathom, in that these devices create an atmosphere in which connecting with real people, face-to-face, has oftentimes taken a backseat. This has been my observation, and as much as I love the information age, I do think that we have all become quite (dis) connected from each other for the most part.

    1. And I’ve also heard people say how they decided to “unplug” for a while, taking a Sabbath from their devices–it was difficult, but strangely rewarding. Thanks for your comment, Angie.

  3. My fear regarding e-gadgets is that we are raising a generation of (dis)connected children that actually begins with non-internet connected video games. Hours upon hours are spent in front of game consoles playing games that require zero [real] human interaction. No more “Sorry” and “Candy-Land” for the little ones to play with otherwise (dis)connected parents. No more “Monopoly” and “Clue” for the (dis)connected family either! I may be old-fashioned (or perhaps just old) but when I watch my grandchildren engrossed in a video game, unable to have a conversation or even answer a simple question for fear of “losing a level”, (dis)connected is definitely what they are! Great Post Cameron.

    1. And to be perfectly honest, I remember when our kids were small, and we as parents sometimes valued any distraction that would keep the kids busy for a while. We need to be more intentional about how we use technology, more careful about the unintended consequences.

  4. Even though I agree with the post and comments, I had to laugh at myself for reading them on Facebook with my iPad at Starbucks…:-)

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