Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Connection Illusion

I'm not the first to reveal the irony of social media (and electronics in general) in regards to family life.  That is, something created supposedly to help bring us all together seems to do a much better job keeping us apart, isolated in our own little spaces with our eyes fixated on the flickering screen.  While we may know much more about our long lost friend Fred from Weiser, Idaho, the tradeoff often seems to be our immediate family.  I know I'm generalizing here, and it's true that some families are able to do an admirable job at monitoring and limiting electronic usage, but I don't think we're the only parents who have a challenge at times reigning in the electronic games or computer time.  

Looking back on my childhood, it's easy to romanticize the outside time component a little too much.  I was not exactly an outside kind of kid.  While I didn't spend every spare moment outside, I never resisted it either.  Something seems to have changed in the subsequent decades.  It's not just about the lack of real socialization or communication during online time either, it's a whole shift in communications.  Attention spans are shorter and vocabularies are smaller,too.  

I remember once finding an old newspaper stuffed inside a wall of my boyhood home.  It was less than a century old, but the vocabulary was grades above what passes for a newspaper today.  When vocabulary falls, our ability to express and articulate ourselves falters, as well.  In fact, that opens the subject of writing.  Look at instant messaging's effect on writing--it's downright depressing.  I'm not saying that we all should strive for the vocabulary of Charles Dickens, but, on second thought, let's all strive for the vocabulary of Charles Dickens.  

In addition to loss of our substantive connections, wasted time, and lost vocabulary, there are other elements, too.  Take e-mail, for instance.  Looking back to how hard I worked at staying in contact with friends after leaving my hometown for Seattle, one would think that e-mail would be a huge help in staying and keeping connected.  Not really.  Instead, I find people I know, at least, don't seem to write personal letters anymore.  E-mails are great, but it's even better to get an old fashioned hand-written letter, don't you think?  Besides the loss of these letters, there's also the frequent inability to reach people via e-mail.  Often times, the reason boils down to what you might call a "connections overload."  Some people seem so overwhelmed that they'd like to go crawl under the nearest rock--then they find out there's WiFi there, too.

I am not going so far as to suggest a Harrison Ford Mosquito Coast departure from modern life.  In fact, I'll be honest...  As a guy who considers writing his second job, I have to stay somewhat immersed in this stuff.  What I would suggest, though, is that everyone remember that technology is like like a good hammer, a tool.  We can't un-ring the technology bell and return to the 1970s.  (Yikes!  That's a scary thought.)  We can and should try to keep things in perspective.  Our iPhone can't be taken to eternity when we fall asleep for the last time someday.  In the end, when we look back on these years from some distant vantage point, time with family will be much more important than our high score on "Angry Birds."  Now...go get off the computer and read to your kids...I have to go tweet my cat's latest updates.

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