By Paul Chanan
I’m going to piss off some people here, so if you are way into your gadgets, a big social media person, or have allowed your life to become overtaken by technology and don’t want to be judged harshly for it — please stop reading right here.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the term “multi-tasking,” but at 44 years old, I’m pretty sure there was long portion of my life when that concept didn’t really exist. That was way back when mail was delivered in envelopes, when phones were attached to walls, and when people communicated with their 20 actual friends face-to-face by speaking, not with their 371 sort-of friends by typing something into a computer.
Now to be fair, I do recognize the intrinsic value of many high-tech things. The ability to get news through the Internet is at the top of that list, rendering next day newspapers basically obsolete. I love the crisp feel of the Chicago Sun-Times as much as anyone, but I can’t remember the last time I read something in a newspaper that was actually NEWS to me …. Cell phones make some sense when it comes to access to your kids, making emergency calls and getting groups together quickly. I’m not even certain I have a home phone anymore, and if I do, I know I don’t answer it. Waiting three days for a letter to get delivered now seems 2.9 days too long, and what a pain in the ass these old things were: typewriters, white out, date books, stamps, cords, phone operators, long-distance calls, personal checks, phonebooks, etc.
But even with all the positive high-tech changes, it seems to me we all sold out WAY TOO HARD.
Here’s what I mean, broken down into a few of my biggest tech issues:
- 24/7 access to everyone becoming the expectation. Why in God’s name did we let this happen? With the exception of good health, I almost cannot imagine anything more precious than a person’s free time. And we simply gave it all away. Is it too dramatic to say we have all become slaves to our phones? How often do you check your phone? Every day? Every hour? Every 10 seconds? Enough where if someone was videoing you, you’d be completely embarrassed? And be honest, what is the expectation for a reply to a text or email? Three days? One day? A few hours? Thirty seconds? Have you ever forgotten your phone when you were going to be away for a period of time? Can you say, “withdrawal?” And how about when you’ve finally had enough and shut it down for a few hours? Do you have some fear that someone is trying to reach you? That they’ll think you’re inattentive, blowing them off or maybe have died? Maybe your boss needs you. You don’t want him struggling to hunt you down. And people say you can set your own boundaries. No chance.
Virtual social lives replacing actual, real social lives. I confess, and I suspect I’m going to alienate 95% of my peers, but I think all the social networking I see is pretty much garbage. Now I suppose if you use it just to connect with your out-of-town relatives, pass along business information, or communicate vital information once in awhile to some select people who are close to you, it has some value. But most of what I see is just an easy-to-use, cookie-cutter substitute for being in the real world. And what’s so wrong with that, you might ask? Well, I just think things that are easy and quick substitutes for more real things are just that … not real. And while maybe more convenient, a world where your friendship communication is mass-produced with well thought-out quips and carefully chosen photos, to me, is high on style and low on substance. Even the most social media-friendly among us must admit that these sites tend to be filled with high levels of narcissism. People who are active social-networkers have a huge and captive audience of like-minded people, and I think they subconsciously enjoy this now socially acceptable method of mass one-upmanship.
Does anyone else think it’s super-weird when people post to 500 people a photo of their breakfasts, them at a concert, some brilliant quote their kid just said, a vacation shot on a mountain or heading out to some theater, or any other thing that they are supposed to be doing for fun? Are you really living in the moment when your focus is not on the actual thing you are doing, but instead on showing a bunch of people what you are doing? If a person is really doing something of substance, shouldn’t the last thing on their mind be getting their gadget, typing something into it or taking a picture, sending it to a group of “friends”, and then checking over and over to see how many “likes” and replies it gathers?
- No focus on who you’re currently supposed to be focused on. A few short years ago, it would have been unheard of to take a phone call while engaged in a face-to-face conversation with a friend. Or to check for messages. Or to react to a beep, a buzz or a ringtone while talking with someone. Or to go to dinner with couples where everyone has a phone on the table right alongside the food and drink. And then checking it. Regularly. Once considered beyond rude and socially unacceptable, it’s now absolutely the norm. This is a disgusting byproduct of the technology epidemic, but once again the majority rules … and almost everyone does this.
- Crazy amounts of over-communication/information overload. How many emails, texts, calls or other communications do you get a day? How many do you get during non-traditional business hours, say after 5 pm and before 9 am? How many call for immediate action by you? And how many are just a complete waste of time? How often are you distracted by your gadgets? I’ll tell you how often … Always. And how often do you send something out that is really pretty unnecessary? For instance, you receive something from someone, and it really doesn’t call for any reply, but you feel you NEED to respond because it’s awkward to just let it end. So what could have been dealt within a 30-second phone call now is part of a 10-part email back-and-forth. Worse yet, how ridiculous is the guy who regularly uses the “reply-all” when it’s so obvious that nobody cares. Which then for some unknown reason always leads to a “reply-all-athon” — in which a chain of people just keep perpetuating the madness. This is eye-gougingly painful to watch, in addition to being a monumental time-suck. Bottom-line: the guy who invented “reply-all” needs to be put down. Now.
- Everyone claiming it’s NOT them, but it is. Some of the worst of the worst admit this is a HUGE problem, then say it’s everyone else and not them. Hey, sorry, but it’s you. Trust me.
- This is all our kids have ever known. Don’t they deserve a better example from us? If your kids are over 10 years old, go in the basement or in their room while they have friends over. You might see something like this: Everyone sitting down, all doing something alone on their own phone, barely even interacting with each other. For hours. And that’s normal to them. I’m really not okay with that. When was the last time you drove a bunch of kids somewhere in your car? Were they talking or interacting with each other? Or were they all wrapped up in their virtual lives while the real world was going on around them? I was at a college basketball game last season and I sat with my son in the student section. At one point during play at a very critical moment in the game, I looked around at the students and noticed at least half of them were not watching. They were doing something on their phones. During the game. Texting during meals? Sure. Checking phones during personal conversations? Why not? Texting while driving? You bet.
But the argument can be made that they are kids, and that’s all they know. But WE ADULTS should know better, and we don’t. Because what should be just a big example of youthful immaturity has become OUR way of life too. It’s hard to tell our kids to live in the “here and now” when we are bouncing around from one tech gadget to another and not really living. What a horrible example we are setting.
- All of this is adding up to a constant state of insane multi-tasking, which leads to nobody having the ability to focus on what’s really important. People who think all of this is well and good often argue that technology is merely a compliment to the rest of their lives, and has not overtaken it. I respectfully disagree. There is only so much time in the day. That much hasn’t changed. If you are doing one thing, you are not doing something else. And if you try to do two things at once (multi-task), you are merely doing several things half-assed. Especially when it comes to relationships. Spouse-to-spouse. Parent-to-child. Friend-to-friend. These are relationships that require 100% focus, and when you’re juggling people with computers, phones, texts and your 400-person stable of “friends” — you’re there, but not really. And trust me, the few people that still want all of you for the time you are with them DO NOTICE. As clever as you think you are at covering up your tech dependence, they can feel it. They may be powerless to reign you in, but they DO NOTICE. And if that’s your spouse, child, friend or anyone else you care about, is that the message you want to be giving them?
So there you go. Just one man’s opinion on the state of all things technology. If it makes you feel better, go right ahead and reject my Friend Request …
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Paul Chanan is the father of two. He is also a collaborative attorney and family mediator. Paul and his partner, Melissa Mondschain, LCPC, founded Chanan Mondschain Co-Mediation Partners in Northbrook, Illinois, where they co-mediate, out of court, all issues involved in divorces and other family disputes. Be sure to check out: cmcomediation.com.