Intrusive technology hinders real communication

While waiting for a set of new tires at the car dealership, I could not make conversation a fellow time-passing customer because the television was yapping too loudly at no one and everyone. Same deafening decibels occurred with the built-in wall messaging video unit next to the elevator at a large, regional hospital where I went to visit a friend. So I took the stairs.

At a grocery store, an electronic eye unit sensed my presence and offered samples to me as I walked by, interrupting both my train of thought and the conversation I was having with my son. At another store, flashing lights and a digital voice proclaimed which checkout lane was available. At the gas station, I had convenience store items pitched at me both audibly and visually from the pump.

When I shared my techno-overwhelm with my kids, 13 and 14, they gave me big, technology-desensitized stares and told me I was overreacting. At least that’s what I think they said, but I couldn’t tell for sure over the blare of the advertisement that played at the start of the YouTube clip my son was accessing from my iPhone. I was left alone to wrestle with the idea that all the new audio/visual communication stimulation is rapidly getting old.

I have an ongoing fantasy that centers around my going on a long trip to a faraway land where I cannot be bothered by technology. When I recently watched the movie “Unbroken” on the big screen, I caught myself envying the three shot down WWII plane guys stranded at sea in an inflatable boat because they DIDN’T have to have contact with anyone. That should tell you something.

Such nostalgic thoughts take me back to a simpler time when my stand-alone answering machine, with its teeny-tiny cassette tapes, was the most high-tech item I owned. Although my cutting-edge joy over the device’s convenience was short-lived due to a stalker leaving sexually-threatening messages on it, my point is the device was quietly parked on my kitchen counter until I chose to interact with it.

The same can’t be said for many of today’s personally-intrusive, carry-with-you-everywhere devices, which have resulted in people constantly calling, texting, emailing, tweeting, poking and prodding one another. Mostly because they can.

If there’s something that’s been lost in communication, besides peace and quiet, it’s the difference between urgent and important. Everything allegedly needs immediate attention because we now have 24/7 access. But that doesn’t make it important.

To satisfy our growing societal need for immediate gratification, even the medical field has acquiesced by establishing “immediate” care establishments on every other corner. The fact some of these are located in malls says it all, doesn’t it? One-stop instant answer shopping.

Part of the driving force behind the immediate care concept was what was observed unfolding in emergency rooms across the country: the emerging definition of “emergency” broadening to include pink-eye, colds and ingrown toenails, an outgrowth of our increasingly faulty national belief we are too special to wait. For anything.

Several years ago I attempted to call a colleague in the counseling field, but his receptionist said he was in session and therefore unavailable. “Can I have his voicemail or leave a message?” was my next question. To my surprise, I was told no, you either catch him or you don’t, but he didn’t deal with messages. One could only wish!

At the time I thought, “What a selfish %$*@&!” But I have since mentally promoted to sainthood this man who refused to be universally available. And further to his credit, when you did get to talk with him, you received his undivided attention, an experience as rarely encountered anymore as it is highly desirable.

One of my favorite places to go as a child was my grandmother’s house. In addition to her wonderful cooking, what made it special was the visit represented a time-out amidst the pressures and distractions of life. No alarm went off on the cell phone she didn’t have while I was pouring out my heart and she was pouring out stovetop-stirred hot cocoa. If focus has become as hopelessly old-fashioned as that hot cocoa, I stand happily accused as archaic.

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