Saturday, May 26, 2012

Looking UP.

I know this is familiar to you. It has to be.

Humor me for a moment. Take a minute and really look around you. Don't take for granted that you know what is there...

Go ahead, you can do it. Put down the phone. Drop the iPad and back away slowly. Pull your head up from whatever technology you are using and...

L O O K    A R O U N D.

I think I just heard the male thirty-something in the back squeal like a girl and run for cover. Yes, that blinding globe shining in the sky is called the SUN. I know it's strange and I understand that you may not understand what those bizarre creatures walking around on two legs are...those are called PEOPLE. No, they're not fantasy, they are real, and they don't necessarily look like their avatars! If you listen closely, guess what? They SPEAK and they do it in complete sentences longer than 140 characters! Don't panic! It's okay! Your hearing is fine! They have voices!

Holy cow. What an amazing world we live in, where people actually speak instead of giving you a precis of their mindset in 140 characters or less and have conversations that aren't based on what the person before them said on Facebook!

I know it's strange, but just stick with me.

Now, I understand what a foreign concept I am putting forward, but don't panic, you're ok, I'm right here with you. Just sit back, relax, take a breath, look around and actually count the number of people around you who are actually looking UP. I know it's a stretch to actually make you participate in the Z-Space, but just hang on, you're going to be okay.

As you're looking around and counting, I don't care if they're looking at the ceiling, the fluffy white clouds in the blue sky above them, the stars overhead at night...look around and count how many people actually are looking UP in relation to how many you see looking down at their mobile device.

Freaky, isn't it?

If you just swore at the "holy cow" epicness of what you just saw, it's ok, I do it all the time. The cartoon above does nothing but service my point because here comes the gut check:

Ask yourself, "How many times have I seen that?"

Then push further.

Ask yourself, "How many times have I done that to someone?"

I just saw that cringe...don't worry, your secret is safe with me.  But I'll ask you this simple question, isn't it about time you fixed that?

Don't you hate it when you feel like you've been left behind to dine alone, your dinner partner a mere technological ghost occupying the seat across from you? Don't you just hate it when the mobile device your partner is holding feels like it is more important than you are? I know I do.

Tell me if any of these sound familiar:

My date has been abducted by Siri:  How often have you looked at your significant other, after you've finally scheduled some "us" time, only to find that they've traipsed off with that slut Siri as she uses her wiles and sexy interface to whisk them off to other places? Don't you just hate it when she happily ushers them to Facebookia or Twitterville in the middle of the restaurant you're sitting in, resulting in you only getting an "Mmmhmmm" as any sort of response?

The MomCam: How about the parents from the Silent and Baby Boom generations who have discovered the wonders of technology, resulting in their overwhelming need to share your 4-year-old naked ass on a bearskin rug with the whole world via Facebook or Twitter? Here's worse, when your dinner partner flips their phone around to show you said photo going, "Awwww! How cute!" as you resist the urge to dive beneath the restaurant table in embarrassment thinking "Oh gee, thanks Mom." What is bothersome here is that Moms and Dads from those generations will not likely understand how "FOREVER" the Internet really is.  Once it's out in cyberspace, it's out there forever.  Now just think about YOUR kids and how your happy sharing of all sorts of photos on Facebook will impact their dating lives...

"It's Urgent": I know you've experienced this one because it's a classic. It's where your partner just has to make sure that they take care of the needs of their family, work or friends before they get to you, but you're the one sitting next to them in the here and now, having to tell the restaurant's server that you'll need another minute with the menu (while your mind is already made up, you're just waiting for the person across the table to stop texting and rejoin you).

"The Double Dip": Worst one yet is what I term as the "Double Dip", the significant other who just can't quite seem to stop texting with their ex while they're out on a "date night" with you. That one I'm sure has resulted in quite the few arguments.

Yes, that's right, it's no small wonder why the world is looking down...after all, you naked on a bearskin rug is just so conversation-worthy. By the way, so is the photo of you barfing your guts up after a weekend bender...tasty. Your need to tweet that you're so disappointed with the results of Dancing with the Stars or American Idol that you have to send it out right now? That is so worth neglecting your other half? Oh yes, what the Internet offers us through our personal devices is so much more important than the here and now...or the person sitting next to you...*eyeroll*

Note: Any type of texting or manipulating of personal technology while with a fellow human being directly results in you being thought of as a "rude jackass." Unless it's GPS directions to your destination, you're screwed if you're playing with your phone instead of giving your partner the attention that they deserve.

Actually, I started noticing "neglect due to technology" when I first started back to school at UNLV. Three years ago I was carrying around this really crappy little phone, a white Pantech C150, with which I had no clue what a "text message" was. I had heard of "texting" (thanks to me finding the 30 pages of text messages between my ex and the BHFB), and getting e-mail by phone, but you could say I definitely wasn't on the leading edge of feeling the need to live life vicariously through technology.

I personally like tangible experiences and actually HEARING people speak and engaging in conversation, but I'm crazy like that.

Think your iWhatever is cool? Oh yeah, back in 2009 I was stylin' the T-9 really hard, so when my new-found friends at school would start burning up the keys on their fancy-schmantzy smartphones, I knew I was behind the curve. As I saw message after message pop up in rapid succession finally resulting in the question "R U There?", my shoulders would droop because it took me 10 minutes to tap a reply that said, "Yes." But then again, I also had this very nasty habit...I made it a point to look up at the sky every day and when my friends would text message me, I would reply in complete sentences with correctly spelled words and no abbreviations. While strolling across campus to get to my next class, I watched the majority of my fellow students running into things, or being face down in their smartphones, as I enjoyed the sunny skies, the warmth of the sun on my skin and *gasp* actually speaking to people.

You have to understand where I'm coming from when I say that I make it a point to look up at the sky every day. Remember, I lived for seven years tied inextricably to my computer. It was my only way of communicating with people because I was trapped for three of those years in a foreign country with no friends. Mama Kitte, Aunties Susan, Essjay, Kooky, Neems, Mystdee and Twi, Soosi, June, Tae, Doc Arte, Papa Stung, KayKay, even KP...they were the kind souls who were my friends, but they lived in a digital universe where the only way I could speak to them was through technology. For the remaining four years of my marriage, all of them helped me cope with my world that had shrank to half of what it was and that I was terrified to re-engage.

When I put the cartoon I started the post with onto my Facebook page, my Aunt Mystdee said, "BTW, the girl in the picture so looks like you Sheri! Compare her to your profile pic and it's like they totally used you as a model," then Aunt Susan said, "Oh wow Sheri that does look like you!!" and I do agree with both of them, but here's where it gets frightening: The guy in the cartoon? He looks just like my ex-husband. When I put the caption, "I have SO been here." it was because every evening at dinner, my ex-husband and I would sit just like the two characters in the cartoon.

Every evening without fail, whether we would be having dinner out or staying in when we cooked at home, the entire meal would be him looking at his phone while I tried to make polite conversation. When I would ask him what was so interesting, he would say, "It's just work." Well, we all know what was really going on...and I'm not going to revisit it (if you want to, you go right ahead, that's why there is a post list on the side, just go back to 2009 and start reading).

Much less to say, when my ex-husband hit the door, I realized that the world was a much larger place and I had no choice, I had to get back out in it. I actually stepped out of my home office and found out that the world that I had been cut off from still existed, that people still communicated face to face, but there was an added twist, everyone was carrying a smartphone.

So there I was, back at school sitting in Doc T's Comp II class, sitting astonished that most students were face down in their phones! Always giving a polite nod and a smile, none of them really spoke to each other, they just politely hunkered down and text messaged. I became perplexed. Why weren't they looking up? What was so incredibly fascinating that they HAD to text back right away? What was on those phones that was so vital that they had to be face down in it almost 100 percent of the time?

I asked a few of my fellow students and they said, "Well, I'm just trying to keep up" and "Text messaging rocks because you don't have to give a response right away, you can take your time to think of a response or answer when you have time or when you're ready."

Just to further my understanding on the phenomenon, I took time to sit in front of Wright Hall, right across from the Student Union and Pida Plaza on campus, and watch students as they buzzed from building to building. A good majority of the time, if they weren't walking with a friend or navigating the walkways with their skateboards, what did I find? Students face down in their technology. So much for not feeling a sense of urgency, if a text came through, they were on it faster than anything I had ever seen! But to put the cherry on the cake, I guess they like all of their drama hand-held because they sure seem riveted to whatever was coming through those phones.  Not in three years worth of watching these young people have I ever seen a single one look UP!

Don't get me wrong, I understand that in our very technology saturated world that the instant information/gratification is highly addictive. I also understand that some people might think that looking up at a sky that's just filled with clouds is completely useless, that there is "nothing there", whether they mean it as 'there is nothing to interact with' or 'nothing to see'. I beg to differ on that point. Air, clouds, the, they all have a purpose, if for nothing else than to take a moment to breathe it in and relax....but I'm crazy like that.

But then after watching the students with their technology-influenced habits, I started to feel really bad for my professors and it gave me a unique understanding of why I have such a good rapport with them.

You see, I'm not like most students. I don't have a laptop. I carry an actual paper-filled spiral notebook and I fill it with handwritten notes every single semester. When a professor speaks, I look at them and when they say something important, they see me look down and write down what they just said, then I look back up again to give them my complete attention and take in everything that they are trying to teach me.

But I'm not the norm on campus. Most students carry their laptops with them, and to my dismay I was forced to watch, last semester in particular, as a young woman in my Media Law class (who sat one row in front of me), as she would take notes for class in Word, but the moment she was done typing her notes, her interface would go over to Pinterest, and I would be forced to have to tear my attention between what she was "pinning" and what my professor was trying to say. But Pinterest was the least of my worries, because that young woman's screen flashed non-stop, hopping between Facebook, online shopping (she has a real thing for shoes), Pinterest, then maybe write another note or two from class, work on assignments from other classes and ultimately distract me from what the lesson in class was for that day. It was unavoidable because her screen was literally three feet away and directly in line of sight of my professor and the large screen that contained his lesson. My urge to tap her in the back of the head and holler "Stop that!" or "Pay attention!" was almost irresistible.

But there's my point bubbling back up to the surface again, but I'll add some gravy to it just for some added, extra oomph: In focus groups for NSAC, Gen-C told us point blank that the reason that they post all that they do to Facebook and/or Twitter is because of the acceptance they feel because of the responses they get, whether it is a comment, a "Like" or a "Retweet." Acceptance is a pretty powerful narcotic and with social media taking over our lives at an alarming rate, it's not surprising that we see more and more couples not putting in the work to make their partner (or friends or family) feel accepted. Actually, when someone is messing with their phone in front of the person they are sharing an activity with, it actually rejects the person sitting across from them. After that, the next stop is neglect.

When it gets to neglect, that's where I'm going to have to put my foot down. If you've reached that point, I'm begging you, put your mobile device down. Don't reject and neglect someone you love for the sake of your phone! It's not fair! If they are forced to compete with technology for your attention, that's seriously messed up and ultimately wrong.

As Barnard Hughes sarcastically said in the film Tron: "Won't that be grand? Computers and the programs will start thinking and the people will stop."

Technology is there to help us, not to hinder us.  But, we're all susceptible to its' seductive wiles.  The question is, what are we willing to do to fight against and stop neglecting each other because of it?

Unless it's aiding in the conversation, your mobile device should be in your purse, pocket or somewhere else when you're with a fellow human being.

So, here's my question for you. How willing are you to put down your phone, tablet or other personal technology to give the person next to you some attention? Let's go further, how about putting it down to give yourself some attention (other than servicing your ego through social media)? How about putting down the mobile device and petting your dog or cat?

Social media is just there to re-connect you, not to be your only means of communication. If you feel that the only way that you can speak to your other half and share your day is via text, you may want to readjust your approach or take a stern look at your communication habits.

Do you know that a lot of arguments start because of text messages that are misconstrued because the person who receives the message can't hear the tone in which it is delivered? So are the words on a page...and y'all wonder why I sometimes take a bit of time between posts.

One other thing: If you are the person that is feeling the need to ask your other half if you could tape their phone to your head, share my post with them, I don't mind a bit.  I always publish "Thank You" notes.

Have a great day everyone, and please...just for me...


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