Thursday, January 5, 2012

Forest? What Forest?!

*** Hypocrisy Alert! ***

What I am about to say is entirely hypocritical. I am guilty of the same charges that I am about to levy upon others.

The charges?

Technology overuse and abuse.

During our recent trip to Barcelona we saw this offense on numerous occasions. Sadly, what I saw in others was a reflection of myself ... and I did not like the view.

Technology is powerful and our advancements ought to be embraced, but like any vice, it should be used in moderation. Before technology, there was an old idiom that read “one cannot see the forest for the trees.” In that example, one’s attention was presumed fixed on a detail that prevented them from seeing the greater beauty about them (the tree; not the forest). In our current world, that idiom could be rewritten to “one cannot see the forest for the mutual capacitance touchscreen handheld wireless device used to transmit digital electronic data transglobally to their BFF in Poughkeepsie. Haha. LOLZ!!”


Whether at a zoo, a national park, museum, concert, restaurant or bar, us “moderns” seem obsessed with keeping a connection to our virtual realm and, in the meantime, we miss the simple pleasures and beauty of the real world. This was never more evident than when we visited four UNESCO World Heritage Sites dedicated to the works of Antoni Gaudí (Casa Batlló, Park Güell, la Sagrada Família and Casa Milà). I swear people did not stop and look at Gaudí’s works. Instead they just ran from site to site and snapped picture after picture. They could not see the art for the viewfinder. And if not a camera, it was a foursquare checkin, a facebook checkin, a twitpic, a tweet, a post, a text, an email and so on. And with digital cameras’ capacity to take thousands of photos, their users exercise no restraint. Give ‘em a 4GB card, they’ll fill it with pictures; give ‘em a 32, they’ll fill that too ... with video!

As a Gen X’er (I always hated that term, but that’s what they call me) and a bit of a gadget nerd, I am transitional. I still remember record players, dial phones (on party lines!), having to get off the couch to change the channel and so forth. I find it scary that today’s youth have been born into this (un)wired world never knowing any other way. Terrifying even. Maybe technology won’t be novel to them and they will use it in a strictly utilitarian fashion, thus enabling them to appreciate art and beauty and share only what is valuable or necessary.

But I doubt it.

While in Spain, a bartender at Scobie’s Irish Pub was kind enough to provide access to his bar’s wi-fi network. Scobie’s owners know that free wi-fi in a tourist area is good for business and, if they don’t provide it, the establishment down the street will. However, once Scobie’s patrons successfully navigate their way onto an Internet connection, it’s to facebook (et al) they go where they bury their faces for an hour. While doing so, they ignore the bar and the people within. Nondigital interpersonal communication dies. The bartender was funny, albeit a bit incensed. He said “I’m gonna unplug the Goddamn thing! Nobody talks to each other anymore. They just stare at their phones and don’t even bother to get to know the guy sitting next to them!” He was right. Just sit at a bar at any airport; you’ll see the exact same thing.

Look, I’m not proposing we go back to being primal. This tech stuff is pretty cool and to be able to snap a pic 3,000 miles from home and send it back to mom to let her know that you are doing well is not a bad thing, but somewhere within we need to realize that we are not doing ourselves or society any favors if we can’t stop for a moment, relax, and take in the place and people about us. Mom and BFF can wait.

I’ve made no resolutions, but in 2012 I am going to more carefully meter my use of digital gadgets. And maybe, at the end of the year, I'll have seen more and made a few new friends along the way!

P.S. -- Don’t even get me started on GPS-enabled fitness watches and people who video concerts ...

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1 comment:

  1. I've seen groups of 4 or more UWM Students at bus stops all talking on their cell phones TO OTHER PEOPLE.