Ok, maybe I’m old school. Maybe, for as much as I have embraced the advantages of technology I still like the simpler things. However, one thing I feel rather certain about – technology advances are eroding our general ability to engage in dialogue with one another. I’ll admit it, I text when I need to, and tweet on occasion (@OnTheBallTheory). However, while all of the texting / tweeting / Snapchatting / Instagramming (and I’m sure many others) options are useful, and have certainly found a place in our day to day lives, the art of actually caring on a conversation will go the way of the typewriter and rotary phone if we are not careful. (You remember what a typewriter and a rotary phone are, right?) The poster child of this phenomenon is the Selfie Stick, and let me share an example as to why.
Years ago, before cell phones became common place, before GPS replaced your atlas, and when film was still prominent in cameras, my wife and I took a three week cross country trip by car. We were visiting Yosemite National Park and out sightseeing for the afternoon. I guess it was obvious that the two of us were together, and my wife was approached by two women who had just gotten off a tour bus. They had a quick conversation, handed my wife their camera, and then stood next to me for the picture. I was easily two feet taller than they were, and I’m guessing I might have been the tallest person they had ever seen in person, and wanted to capture the funny moment. They smiled, said thank you to both of us, and went on their way. The entire exchange was no more than a minute, but the encounter, and the fun, polite nature of the interaction, has stayed with me for many years since.
Jump ahead to just a few weeks ago, as my son and I went with his Boy Scout troop on a weekend outing in Washington D.C. It was the height of the cherry blossom season, the weather was perfect, and while the Mall was packed with tourists, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. At every turn, however, there was someone taking a picture – with a Selfie Stick. A picture of themselves, a picture of a small group of people, all with some historical backdrop in view. Our troop walked the Mall from end to end for hours that Saturday, and not once was anyone in our troop asked to take a photo of them or their group. I finally got to a point where if I saw someone struggling with their Selfie Stick, I’d stop and volunteer to take the picture for them. Each one took me up on the offer, and all almost seemed amazed that someone would even go out of their way to help them. Has it come that hard, and/or are people that unwilling to engage in conversation anymore, for something as simple as taking a picture?
Maybe technology made this inevitable. Perhaps sending an email in place of a phone call was the predecessor to this, and now that we are so mobile with tablets, smart phones, and our prized Selfie Sticks, that this phenomenon of non-human interaction has pushed this out of the workplace into our daily personal lives. Communication is such a critical part of our day-to-day existence, yet with each passing year we become more and more passive about it as a society. I’m fearful that if the current trend continues, our verbal conversations will even be reduced to 140 characters per exchange because we won’t know any better.
Please let me know your thoughts – am I on to something here, or completely off base? Is the momentum so great that I should just throw in the towel and accept it for what it is moving forward? I’ll challenge you to make observations for a day on this topic – does anyone have a conversation in the elevator on the way to the office anymore? While waiting in a store? At a train station or airport? As I mentioned at the outset, these great technical advances have a proper time and place in our lives, but I’ll gladly chew your ear off during a nice, long talk if given the opportunity instead.