Telecommunication is a vastly complex and ever-changing organism. Just 50 years ago we could never have imagined the ease, speed and diversity of the systems available to us today. Similarly, I think, we cannot dream of what awaits our grandchildren in the near future.
Of course, our grandchildren are better suited to this advanced technology than we are. They cannot imagine a world without cellphones. They can conceive of a world of communication that will not even need a phone. They don’t think it looks crazy to see someone walking and talking out loud to him- or herself in the public arena.
Whenever my friends are confused by their phones, as far as I can tell, they ask their grandkids to fix it. Not their children, mind you, just the next generation. Even representatives at the Apple store have recommended asking my grandkids to show me in depth what to do!
I remember the pain of waiting up at night until my teenagers came home from parties or late-night excursions. No cellphone to help me keep tabs or stop worrying. And indeed I did worry!
As an educator, parent and community activist, I can see all the incredible advantages of this form of communication: setting up meetings, making sure we are not lost, not late, not confused. In all things, these systems help us.
The speed of communication is also a key factor in the ever-changing style and pace of life. We can travel and still keep in contact. We can talk in the car. (my father would have loved this!) We get things done faster and more efficiently. We don’t even need to talk anymore to communicate, as texting and the use of emojis has taken over our world.
I know we should not leave home without it! Panic ensues if one cannot find their mobile phone. What will you miss? What will you be late for?
These new inventions surely help both the parenting and business world manage daily and practical affairs. They also keep a record of critical data and documents. (Recently, my email disappeared completely! I lost all the tax receipts I had been saving and neglected to print.) Often, teens say their lives are on or in their phone. Many families have given up landlines. Who needs them when you can carry your phone with you everywhere?
Yet, what are we missing? I admit to being of a different generation and often challenged by this new technology. But I also am apprehensive about the constancy of availability with these phones. People are always at work, always accessible. Watching people at restaurants can be very entertaining, as they seem to never talk. But it is also disturbing.
Where is intimacy to be found, and what has happened to the social processes of real human contact? Some people consider their use of these and other technologies as indicating their social contacts and popularity. But it doesn’t. This form of communicating has benefited us, but also left us with severe challenges.
I miss the fun of real-time talking, of hearing voices instead of texting. I miss the social camaraderie and warmth of personal contact. I do love the FaceTime joy of watching my grandkids in the bath or virtual shopping with my granddaughter. When you cannot be together, these systems are invaluable. But they cannot replace the fulsome substance of real-time contact.
Like any other tool known to us, we need to use advanced systems of communication sensibly. We need to refresh human contact whenever possible. We need to put the phone down every now and then. We need to think that not every text needs an immediate response. Fast is often good, but not always. Thoughtfulness requires time, and human intimacy and communication require reflection. As Simon and Garfunkel famously sang, “Slow down, you’re going too fast!”
I don’t leave home without my phone, but I do turn it off every now and then.