Friday, May 25, 2012

Plugged-In (Part 2)

Are We Replacing Conversation With Connectivity?
Technology is changing so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing.
by Dave Boehi

You’re driving down a city street and find yourself stuck behind someone going 15 mph below the speed limit.  What’s your first thought?  That guy needs to get off his cell phone!
You’re sitting in the stands at a high school football game.  You notice that many of the students are not only ignoring the game but they’re also ignoring the friends seated beside them—instead they are busy texting other friends.
You walk through an airport concourse and notice a man pacing back and forth, waving his hands while he talks on his cell phone in a voice that bounces off the walls 30 yards away.  You think, That’s why I hope they never allow people to make calls with their cell phones on a flight.
Sound familiar?  In the last 15 years the cell phone has conquered the world.  I could make a list of 50 ways these phones have improved our lives.   But if you’re like me and can remember what life was like before we all got cell phones, you may wonder if all the changes are really for the good.
Remember those days when you could go to a movie—or to church—and not worry about being distracted by ringing phones or by the white glow of someone texting a friend?  Remember when meetings at work weren’t interrupted by phone calls that people just had to accept?
And here’s one more scene we all see regularly:
You walk into a restaurant and you notice a couple seated near you.  And you notice that they really are not enjoying this opportunity to be together, because one is patiently waiting for the other to stop talking or texting on the cell phone.  And you think, How sad that they aren’t talking to each other.
Adjusting to a new technology is nothing new.  Electricity, automobiles, telephones, radio, television, computers, and many other new inventions sparked significant changes in our culture and in the way we related to our spouses, our children, and our friends.  But the pace of change since 1995 has been breathtaking.  We’ve seen the emergence of the internet and of mobile phones, and then the convergence of the two.  We can now be plugged in wherever we are, 24/7.
The technology is evolving so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing.  But we’re starting to wake up.  Over the last couple years I’ve noticed an increasing number of articles and books on topics like, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price”, and “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”.
An interesting article that caught my attention recently is, “The Flight from Conversation,” an opinion piece in the New York Times.  Sherry Turkle, an author and professor at MIT, writes of her concern that our new ability to connect easily through the web and through cell phones is causing many to forget the importance of conversation in developing a strong relationship.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives.  I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. …
Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding.  We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology.  And the move from conversation to connection is part of this.  But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves.  Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring; we forget that there is a difference.
We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation.  But they don’t.  E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places—in politics, commerce, romance and friendship.  But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.
The drift from conversation to connectivity—from “talking to texting”—should be a concern for any married couple and for any parent.  Other technologies—particularly television—have distracted us from conversation for many years, but recent advances give us the option to replace it.  And how can you develop and maintain a strong relationship with your spouse or anyone else in your family if you aren’t talking to each other?
Some parents are starting to wonder whether their teenage children—obsessively focused on texting—are falling behind in their verbal and relational skills.  Turkle writes, “A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, ‘Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.’”  Think he may need to learn that little skill before he gets married?


Plugging In (Part 1)

Where Is Technology Driving Us?
by Dave Boehi

Image courtesy of

"Technology drives me crazy" by Dave Boehi

I wouldn’t call it a “love-hate” relationship. Perhaps it’s “love-fear.”

On one hand, we love our new technology—our smartphones, our iPads, our laptops. We love the connection these devices give us to information and to people.

Yet many of us also fear what this new technology can do to people. We've seen how it can dominate their lives and sabotage their relationships.

When I wrote of these sweeping changes in my last column, it seemed to touch a nerve. “These mobile devices can take over your life,” wrote one reader in an email. Another said, “I understand technology has its advantages, but we are being ruled by the technology rather than using it as a tool.”

Another wrote, “It’s too easy to disconnect using technology. We all know of the people who check out from life by absorbing themselves in TV. Now we have the internet and cell phones and gaming systems to draw them further into non-reality but yet sooth them with the illusion of being connected or productive somehow.”

Some readers told sad stories about the growing isolation in their marriages:

  •  “I'm usually the spouse waiting for my husband to get off the cell, iPad, instagram, text messaging, Facebook, or some other game that has him hooked. I'm tired of having my conversations through text messages and would enjoy an old-fashioned conversation face to face. But the truth is we barely have anything to say to each other anymore.” 
  • “My husband and I have struggled for the last 25 years of our marriage with conversation, but what has happened now is Facebook has taken over. If dinner isn't ready when he comes home, he's on Facebook until it is. Every morning he gets up and hits Facebook to see who's been on. Sadly he does not see it as an issue. And I fear I am not alone in this.” 
  • “I am one of those people at the restaurant with her spouse, waiting and feeling lonely. My husband is always looking at his phone, checking his email or his bank account, his Facebook, and his texts. I just sit waiting and thinking to myself, ‘Why am I not good enough for him? Why does he have to be entertained by everyone and everything else?’ It deeply depresses me and he just cannot understand my point of view.” 
And many readers expressed their concern about the effects on the next generation. “Technology drives me crazy,” one said. “We had to limit our daughter’s texting as she was sending more than 12,000 a month and they were completely senseless.”

Others wrote:

  •  “I have a 16-year-old son who has no idea how to have a conversation with a girl. He can text all night long, but take that privilege away and he is lost.” 
  • “Co-workers and I talk all the time about how this new generation has no idea how to carry on a conversation.” 
  • “Our young people in society may be technologically savvier than the prior generations, but they are also socially illiterate when it comes to common courtesy and manners.” 
And then there was the man who told about his son and girlfriend who “met, fell in love, and have maintained a long distance relationship almost exclusively through texting.” During their six-month relationship they’ve only seen each other three times. “I keep wondering if you can really know someone with such poor communication,” he wrote. “I just see no way this could really prepare them to do life together.”

Some people gravitate toward texting or Twitter for communication just as they did years ago toward email—it’s simpler, faster, easier. What they don’t realize is that too much is lost in those mediums—emotion, facial expressions, tone of voice, and much more. One woman wrote about problems in her marriage: “… many arguments occur because of something that was texted and was misunderstood by one of us. Today my husband texted me after refusing to have a conversation last night. I thought the tone of his text was ugly and didn't respond. Later he texted me asking why I didn't respond and I said I would rather talk than text because texting can be misunderstood. His response was ‘I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.’"

What a classic quote, and so typically male: “I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.” The problem is that real relationships require real conversation and real emotion.

“When we text, email, Facebook, and the like, we lose a vital piece of relationships: the emotional connection,” wrote another reader. “Without the sound of our voices, the body language, the touch, we as humans lose what God intended to be a vital part of how we are supposed to relate and a vital part of how we are supposed to receive love and be in communion with others.”

What will you do about this dilemma in your home? Don't let this problem dwell in your midst.

For God's glory.