I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately. During the World Series, every other commercial was for some sort of cell phone that could function as a television, as a computer, as an iPod, as a way to text message endlessly or play games. Each commercial was conceived in a way that made the phone sound like the Second Coming. The message was that you could do anything with these phones. You could stay connected 24 hours a day. The advertising agencies have done a stellar job of convincing the public that they will not be connected without a cell phone that does everything. Bravo.
Listen, I love technology. I love my laptop, I have an iPod, I use the internet. I am grateful for the technological advances that have given me the opportunity to blog, to google something at a moment’s notice, to listen to music while on my computer, to call someone on my cell phone.
When I first met Don, I didn’t have a personal computer. I didn’t have a cell phone. Somehow, I survived. I decided to get my first cell phone for personal safety. I was often at rehearsals and performances until very late at night and the idea of being able to contact someone in an emergency was very comforting. For Don, a cell phone enabled him to keep in touch with his agents – no more beepers or calling an answering service. However, I distinctly remember my initial response to the idea of a cell phone: I didn’t always want to be reached. I wanted quiet in the car when I was driving. I wanted to walk down a street and not be tethered to my cell phone. I figured then, as I figure now, that if someone really needed to reach me, he or she could leave a message. Simple.
Now, when I walk down a city street – Manhattan, for example – all I see are people wearing ear phones, listening to music and/or texting, with heads down, isolated from everyone else on the street. No one looks at anyone they pass, no one is present. There seems to be a need to fill every moment with trivial text messages, with watching a television show on a tiny cell phone screen, with communications that are just so important that they cannot wait. Unless you’re the President, I have a feeling nothing is that important.
What good is all of this if it stops us from really connecting with others? What good are a 1000 friends on Facebook, if you can’t pick up the phone and call one? Who cares about the minutia that I would communicate if I had a Twitter account? Do you care that I’m going to the grocery store to get toilet paper? I hope not.
So much of this technologically advanced world we live in can be a positive force. I, for one, am very grateful for the chance to have this blog and for the opportunity it gives me to meet people from all over the world. I wouldn’t have that without these advances. I’ve found real, not virtual, friends through blogging. But sometimes I have to force myself to disconnect. Because there is life to be lived.
I remember the very first time I visited Manhattan. I was about 22 and I flew from Detroit to NYC to visit my college roommate. As I walked around the city, people kept smiling at me. It made me a bit nervous and I asked my friend about it. She told me it was because my face was so open, because I smiled in my friendly Midwestern manner and people were naturally drawn to that. I was approachable. I’m not so naive that I don’t know that you have to be careful in a city – I’ve lived in Boston, Philadelphia and San Diego. I didn’t have a car in either Boston or Philadelphia. I walked everywhere. I get it.
But what happens if we are so enthralled with our cell phones and our music players that we don’t open our eyes to those around us? We lose the opportunity to return a smile, pause and open a door for someone, help someone with a package, talk to someone while waiting in line, comment on the weather – any one of a number of ways to reach out and really connect with another human being. And that is what is important. Not a text. Not a virtual conversation. A real moment in time where two human beings smile or laugh or even commiserate with each other. Or for that matter, a moment in time where one just is.
My pal William Shakespeare said it best – “…a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” If we fill up every moment with distractions, we never allow a moment to be.
This need to be connected is a real one for all of us. It is a fundamental need. We have to be careful that the illusion of being connected doesn’t replace what is real and lasting.