Gen-“Texters:” technology is a convenience, not a necessity

The year is 1977.  Jimmy Carter was just sworn in.  The Vietnam War was two years gone and remote-controlled TV was still a novelty.  VCRs were brand new on the market, audio cassettes were taking over 8-track tapes, and CDs weren’t even on the radar.  There was no Internet and no cell phones.  The only mobile phones available were hardwired into cars and cost nearly as much as the car itself.  Rock-and-roll road shows were peaking and booking nearly every stadium for day long multi-billed shows from Candlestick Park to Yankee Stadium, hosting headline bands like Boston and Kansas (yes, those are names of bands — for those of you young enough to be scratching your heads right about now).  It was, to say the least, a very different time.

For many at NSU, I’ve just described a period of U.S. history that’s difficult to relate to.  It was the heyday of the last few Baby-Boomers giving way to the onset of the Gen-Xers and Generation-Y wasn’t even a twinkle.  And, even though we didn’t have nearly as many modern communication devices as there are today, the era was not without its particular attractions.

Without the miracles of the Internet, email, instant message, or smart-phones with voice mail, apps, and text-messages, Gen-Xers and Boomers still had an instinctual need to connect with the world around them.  And, we did so without so much modern technology, using instead the old and reliable standby of actually talking to each other – live and in real-time.

Socially, something’s changed with the onset of modern marvels – and not necessarily always for the better.  That is, connecting with others appears to have taken on a whole new quality.  These days, people seem less drawn to personal interaction and instead seem satisfied with what sociologists call Electronically Monitored Communication (EMC) – in other words, no actual physical human contact.

A disturbing amount of our contact these days is indeed taking place out of real-time on that impersonal LED screen.  It seems that Generation-Text is taking advantage of down-time in life by getting busy texting in lieu of engaging with the people standing right in front of them and risking life and limb behind the wheel in lieu of public safety.

Clearly, there is a wide chasm being constructed between the people of our modern world.  Connections among people are being relegated to the virtual world and personal relations may be going the way of the dinosaur.  No good can come from this.  If people don’t connect in the real world, it’s difficult to develop empathy, and basic humanity is jeopardized.

Does it strike anyone as absurd that we need to ask people to refrain from texting and respect the classroom environment?  We actually have a school policy on it.  C’mon.  Really?  These days, we don’t have cell phones – cell phones have us.  I say, let us take back our dignity from these electronic wardens.  Are they really so critical?

As a bit of a social experiment, six months ago I abandoned mobile phone service entirely just to see how life would unfold without it.  I quickly noticed that I rather enjoyed the absence of my cell phone.  However, I was still compelled to manage my life and responsibilities.   And, you know what?  I was able to make it happen.  I was reminded of a time when such conveniences were not available and people made life happen without them – every day without giving it a second thought.

Bottom line?  Mobile communication devices are convenient – not necessary.  These days, I take guilty pleasure when I mention to someone that I don’t own a mobile phone.  Most look at me as though I have a second head and think that I must surely be joking.   Wow…life goes on without cell phones?  What a concept.

Life does take on a whole new flavor without a cell phone strapped to my hip.  Here’s what it looks like:  I don’t answer to anyone – unless I want to.  Nobody is ever upset with me because I haven’t returned their calls or messages as quickly as they prefer.  Frankly, no one can ever lay claim to any of my precious time unless I say so.  And, when I interact with anyone, it’s always in real-time, up close and personal.  It’s kind of weird.  I like it.

Yes, I might miss out on a few parties or announcements here and there.  That’s OK.  If you’re someone I want to hear from, you’ll know how to find me.  If you aren’t, well —you’ll know that too.

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