I knew something was wrong; I just didn’t know how much.
I was on a very fast open boat, zooming up the East River with my family. We were heading for a day at the Cirque de Soleil, on Randall’s Island.
As far as my two little boys were concerned, nothing could top the trip up the East River, to get there.
They had a point.
Once I had reassured myself that each boy was firmly in an adult relative’s grasp, I spared a moment to look around. Every one of our fellow passengers was enjoying the experience: looking up the river, waving to all the boats we passed, watching the spray as we cut through the water….
Everyone, that is, except one boy, slightly older than mine, who was mesmerized by some game he was playing on a hand-held Game Station or the like. Here we were, in a real-life situation that could only have been slightly more thrilling if we were actually outrunning the Coast Guard in a built-for-speed cigarette boat …but he never looked up.
Little did I guess that in a few short years, he wouldn’t even have been the exception.
On a visit to Manhattan recently, I was shocked to realize that 8 or 9 of every 10 people I saw was looking at, scrolling, or reading something on their phone.
They never looked up, not even while crossing the street. “Look around!” I wanted to shout at them, “You’re in the middle of one of the great tourist destinations of the world!
Also, watch out for the bus!”
But of course, they would never have heard me, because they were listening to their phones, as well.
We are becoming so addicted to our devices, we don’t even know it’s an addiction.
Sherry Turkle is a sociologist, a working psychologist, and a researcher at MIT on the sociology of all things “tech.”
In her latest book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” Turkle says that our technology is changing both the quantity and the quality of our communications — for the worse. “Even a silent phone disconnects us,” she says, and even when we are face-to-face, because if anyone’s phone is in view, it serves as a constant reminder that someone, somewhere, at any instant, could be more interesting and more important than you.
As a result, we are all having fewer, and shallower connections.
Soon, our children’s abilities to communicate IRL (In Real Life) may become so depleted we will actually have to teach them how to have a simple conversation.
Just as people used to send their musical prodigies to Interlochen for the summer, or promising athletes to baseball camp, we might have to send our young people to Communications Camp.
When I sent my kids to summer camp, they weren’t allowed to take cell phones — partly so they couldn’t call us and complain about the food, but mostly, I think, so we parents wouldn’t insist on trying to reach them, in the middle of the zip line course.
I used to wish for somewhere even more basic to send them — somewhere like a cross between summer camp and Colonial Williamsburg.
There, they could learn how to get up with the sun; pump buckets of water and carry them to the house; peel potatoes and boil an egg for dinner, in between slopping the hogs and milking the cows (after waiting for them to come home)… all while their father and I luxuriated back home with the TV all to ourselves.
But now, even the 20th century is looking quainter all the time.
More important than learning to splice rope, mark trails, or even start a fire with underwear stolen from the camp across the lake, are the vital life skills that today’s kids must learn: “Making Eye Contact 101”. “Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ Like You Mean It” (“Making Eye Contact” is a prerequisite for this upper level seminar). “Waiting Your Turn to Speak.” “After Speaking, Letting Someone Else Have A Turn.” “Listening, or at least faking it better.” And, “Putting Away That Damned Phone.”
Nowadays, as I watch people everywhere in the city with their noses buried in their silicon-based devices, I wonder: if aliens from another star-system ever happened to invade, would we even know it?
I think they would be perfectly safe walking the streets among us. No one would even notice them — unless they foolishly posed in selfies with Kim Kardashian.
Hmmm. What if the invaders are the silicon-based life forms …and they’re already here?
I’d better go check my phone and see what Twitter has to say about that!