I was pulling out of the neighborhood the other day on my way to work when my car’s on board computer, navigation, gizmo-thingy alerted me to the fact that there was no cellphone connected to the system. I then felt my belt to discover, OMG! I had left the house without my cellphone. So I turned around, went back the house, ran upstairs, retrieved my phone, and started back again. Don’t laugh at me. You know you’ve done this too at least once. We are constantly connected. We can’t live without our tech; our smart phones, laptops, tablets, WiFi, Bluetooth, ISDN, you name it. Now, don’t think me overly nostalgic about the good old days before cellphones and home computers. These things have made our lives, mine included, easier. However, I think these things and the constant gratification of connectivity have made us stupid and rude.
Back in the day, my mother used to send around the corner to the 7-Eleven to get things like milk, bread, soda, or whatever. So I’d schlep my happy butt off to the store, walking or on my bicycle, and pick up what she had sent me for. Now, like most nine or ten year olds, I didn’t take notes. I just said “Yes ma’am. Can I keep the change?” and moved out. If I got back and didn’t have everything she asked for, then I was schlepping my happy butt back up to the store and you could be sure that I wasn’t keeping the change at that point. I learned to listen and remember things because there were consequences to not listening and remembering. Now, a kid doesn’t have to remember squat. They don’t even have to know where they’re going. Mom just says “go… wah wah wah…” and off they run. Sometime after they leave, they call mom and ask “where am I going again?” and then when they get there they call again and ask “what am I getting?” They don’t suffer any consequences because they don’t actually blow it. They will eventually come back with the right things. So, why should they have to listen in the first place if all they have to do is keep calling for more instructions? Cellphones are allowing children to forgo learning the basic life lessons of listening and remembering.
So, now I’m at a fast food place (really, this happened). I order my meal and offer the girl a five dollar bill to pay for my meal. She tells me that she can’t accept cash because the automatic change dispenser isn’t working, although the cash drawer (with change in it) was working just fine. She tells me management doesn’t let them give change from the drawer and that they are only supposed to use the change dispenser. Really?! Do they lose that much money in employee miscalculation of coin currency that they would rather lose a cash paying customer? Okay, so that’s one store’s policy; could be an anomaly. So now, I’m at another fast food place (really, this happened), my meal comes out to $6.25. I offered the kid $11.25 (a ten, a one, and a quarter) and said just give me back a $5.00 bill. You would have thought I asked him to finish an equation on thermo-dynamics. He said, “Sir you’ve given me too much. It’s $6.25.” I said, “Yes, I know. I just want a five back for change.” He stopped and stared at the money for a moment, then called his shift manager for assistance. Now, I’ve got two 19 year olds recalculating something more confounding to them than the quantum state of frozen dark matter. The young lady, being a customer relations genius, realized that this looked embarrassing for the store. So, she quickly tapped a couple keys on the register, which opened the cash drawer, handed me back a five, my one dollar bill and 75 cents, and then with a big smile said, “There you go sir.” As she was so obviously pleased with the speed that she resolved this matter of high finance in front of her subordinate, I didn’t have the heart (or the patience) to correct her. I’m sure she went in the back and texted all her friends about the crazy old man who couldn’t count. She probably did so with the much needed assistance of the cellphone’s a spell checker and emoticons.
In addition to being connected all the time, the sum total of human knowledge can be accessed damn near by anyone, at any time, with one of these high speed, fancy schmancy gizmos. Therefore, there’s this generation (actually a couple of generations now), that just doesn’t learn or attempt to remember the basics. They know they can just Google it, call a friend, or string together enough characters until the auto-complete auto-correct function kicks in. Asking someone to actually give you directions instead of using a navigation app is liable to end you up a county or two away from where you intended to go. Forget about Rand-McNally, most people under 30 won’t even attempt to decipher a paper road map. I’ve even fallen prey to the seduction of technology. I misspell the word “relevant” 4 out of 5 times. I’ll text someone or send them an email when I could just go see them. I can’t tell you my wife’s work phone number or my parent’s home phone number for that matter. I don’t dial a number. I select a contact. If my phone battery dies I’m pretty much helpless, even if someone else hands me theirs. I wouldn’t know more than a couple numbers. But I tell you what, I remember my home phone number from when I was six (641-4375).
Of course technology has made us ruder too. Loud cellphone conversations and texting while driving aside (which is incredibly dangerous, so don’t ever do it), I can’t stand being in a conversation with someone who pulls out their cellphone just to check their email, send a text (unrelated to us at that moment), or look for the next “cutest cat picture ever”. My wife will do this to me occasionally. We’ll go out to eat and as soon as she sits down, she pulls out her cellphone and checks her Facebook news feed It’s like, I’m not even there. To me it feels like I’m so uninteresting and that the time we are having together at that moment is so boring that she has to reach out to or enjoy the lives of others right then. There’s nothing wrong with checking for a message if you’re expecting one or even quickly reading one if it comes in while you’re out with someone else. After all, it really could be important. It’s okay to use technology to assist you in the moment, like getting a movie time or seeing where something is located, but it’s just plain rude to ignore those who are literally with you, in your physical presence, to be virtually with those who aren’t To me it’s like standing in a customer service line, only to have to wait on the person behind the counter to get off the phone with another customer who called in to ask a question. I mean really, I actually got in my car, drove to the store, and waited in line to talk to the jackass and have the potential to actually buy something right then and there; only to find myself waiting behind someone who isn’t even in the store.
Why do people feel that they have to be constantly talking or texting with someone else? I remember driving to work one morning when I taught at BYU. I was sitting second car back at a stop light on State Street, a three lane wide avenue. I glanced around at my fellow commuters and found that every driver in each car, all eight of them (three front, three back, and one on each side) were yakking on their cellphones. C’mon! The commute in Provo, Utah from anywhere in town couldn’t have been any more than 20 minutes. What or who is soooo important at 7:00 AM? They either just left them at home or they’re going to see them in ten minutes. I began to notice that this was an everyday thing and not just there, everywhere! I was at Target just this morning. This old(er) woman in front of me didn’t - wouldn’t - couldn’t get off her cellphone long enough to empty her basket and pay the clerk. Apparently, she was in a riveting conversation with her daughter about her granddaughter’s new wardrobe acquired on sale down there at the local Wal-Mart store. So there she was, holding her phone with her shoulder and cheek trying to pick up the can goods from the bottom of the cart. She then took her sweet time writing a check (phone still wedged between ear and shoulder) and ignoring the clerk while yammering on with her daughter. I’m telling you… just freakin’ rude… discourteous, inconsiderate, insensitive, or whatever you want to call it. If you ever call me at work and my office phone goes to voice mail, just leave a voice mail or call me back a little later. There’s a possibility that I may be out of the office or there’s an equal possibility that I may be sitting there in it talking with one of my employees. Silly me, the people who actually come into my office get my full attention and have greater priority than those who call (that’s why I have voice mail). Oh and while I’m on it, I don’t treat email like an online chat window. I will get to them – when I get to them. I usually clear my inbox three of four times a day. If it’s urgent, call. If I don’t pick up, call back or leave a message
I know life has become reliant easily accessible communication technologies; businesses expect employees to answer their emails and texts quickly; and mom and dad want Jenny and Johnny to be safe, so they expect them to answer every time when they call to check up on them. However a lot of these “technology dependencies” are tied to individual insecurities; insecurities expressed with thoughts like, “if I don’t reply fast enough people may think I’m ignoring them or don’t like them” or “since they didn’t reply, they must not like me.” Some delude themselves into thinking that by being electronically tethered to others that they are actually achieving some sort of deep bond or meaningful fulfillment. What they fail to recognize is that they (all sides) are only sharing the aspects of their lives that they want others to see. Most of the time they only the share the good; the stuff that makes them look good to others or allows them to feel good about themselves. Sometimes they share the bad to seek pity or be the center of attention. And more often than really should happen, they use it to say things about people that they would never say in person. Technology has given us the latitude to be people we aren’t and speak in ways we shouldn’t At times it strengthens the worst in us and teaches the wrong lessons, especially in those who haven’t matured or are emotionally secure.
A relationship does not really flourish or fail based on a ‘relationship status’ or emoticon. No one is going to achieve true fulfillment through a long distance relationship in which the two never actually meet. A person’s worth is not determined by the number of friends they have on Facebook nor are they influential because they have a ton of followers on Twitter. IRL, or “In-Real-Life”, still counts for a helluva lot more than any amount of jabbering over a phone or thumb wrestling with a screen. And, IRL is a lot more fun and fulfilling too. No number of likes, pokes, and posts will ever make me feel as good as I do as when I look across a dinner table into my wife’s eyes. And I don’t care how much bandwidth I use, a Skype conversation will never replace a hug from my mother or father. I love technology. I know how to make it stand up and scream. But it screams for me. All the things a smart phone or laptop can assist me with are just that – assistance. I am still capable of doing the same things with a pencil and paper or, if necessary, at a library (if you’re younger than 21, that’s the place where the internet is all in books; except for YouTube, and that’s just stupid by itself). Yeah, I will probably still go back and get my phone the next time I forget it at the house, but really only because my wife is going to call me some time during the day to find out where we’re going for dinner together that night.