A few nights ago I met up with a group of people at a local Bertucci’s to have a good meal as a send-off for a few friends heading on a retreat for the weekend. Being that I normally spend much of my time alone, I looked forward to the interaction with some people I haven’t hung out with in quite awhile. For the hour the meal lasted, instead of catching up with those that I dined with, I got to know better Apple, Samsung, and Nokia. For the majority of the meal, most everyone was either texting, playing Words With Friends, or looking something up on the Internet. When I left, I felt considerably sad that society is beginning to accept these behaviors as a normal way of living. I have begun to wonder how many others are noticing this happening. It seems as if all our technology advances are having a direct correlation to a progression of human interaction going from the very personal to the very impersonal.
In a time period many years before I was ever born, when even the home telephone didn’t exist, people would meet and carry on conversations, build deeper friendships, establish spiritual relationships, and strengthen family bonds. Block parties, family reunions, local festivals, game nights, social clubs and more were all quite prevalent then. But that would soon change. First the home telephone would become commonplace and then eventually, during my generation, Generation X as it was nicknamed, the world would give rise to pagers, then cell phones, and eventually the internet. Although each of these have been great hi-tech developments, they appear to be leading humanity to enjoy spending more time texting, instant messaging, and being on the internet then in developing interpersonal skills. In the last few years, I have intently observed this deterioration of human communication and noticed some disturbing trends.
There are those that continue to try to have romantic relationships using only the Internet and cell phones, many of which profess their undying love before even their first meet and greet. Sending instant messages to each other and trading pics are all great ways to begin a relationship with someone. But what about the things you generally won’t learn about using those modes? There are many online who are not who they say they are. From bad habits, to age inconsistencies, to likes and dislikes, to looks and appearances, it’s sad to say that all too often the whole truth is not revealed. Some even fail to mention they are already married, dating someone else, are former criminals, or suffering from serious health conditions. There are even those too that lie about their gender.
Then there’s text messaging. Is anyone noticing how this seems to be rapidly becoming the preferred method of interaction between people. Some teenagers I know text close to several thousand messages to each other monthly. Don’t get me wrong; typing a sentence on a phone to let someone else know a very quick thing, such as the time and location to meet, can be handy. But on the other hand, it can appear rather unfriendly and rude when one calls another to say hello and carry on a conversation and the response comes back in the form of text or a quick e-mail.
Also unsettling is the effect that both online instant messaging and cell phone text messaging are having on the English language. The use of abbreviations are becoming quite commonplace now because of these modes of exchange. “NYOB, TTYL, LOL, H2CUS, IDK, etc.” are just a few examples of the hundreds that now exist. Sadly, these are now finding their way into school papers, letters, and e-mails and many people like myself don’t even know what most of them stand for.
At first glance, these points might not seem to be that big of a deal. That viewpoint might change though when one considers the subsequent questions that I believe are directly related to this path our communications are heading on.
Why are the number of cases of depression increasing each year? Why is the rate of suicide on the rise every year? Why is it that someone is going on a killing spree and massacring dozens in just a matter of moments weekly these days? Why are anonymous sex and promiscuity increasing at alarming rates? What explains the reason why alcohol and drug abuse are becoming so widespread? Can anyone really explain why the rate of divorce has become so staggering? These are just some of the questions I continue to ask myself and all of them are leading to a domino effect on life, as we know it. All of the following are reportedly now also on the rise too: child neglect and abuse, mass hysteria and fear, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, crimes and violence, gangs, etc. Can anything really be done to stop this downward spiral? What I’m really posing here is the question of whether it’s really possible that all of these trends are directly related on some level to texting, instant messaging, and the internet?
There are so many people feeling neglected and unloved these days. In the many years that I felt that way, I sought out alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and local gangs to deal with the emptiness. I had many online romances that never materialized. I entered and left many intimate relationships. I even attempted suicide. The more I stared at pixels on a computer screen or at words on a phone during all those years, the less I was able to experience that which drew me closer to others and the less that God was able to create the love that bonded me to any of God’s children. In the past few years, I’ve removed the texting plan from my phone, pulled myself off of internet chat sites, and made it a point to leave the phone in my pocket when I’m out being social with others. The result has been that I’m a lot less depressed. I feel more connected to who and what God wants me to connect to. And I’m not living with toxic addictions or friendships anymore.
All of us face loneliness on some level, but maybe some of it can be prevented? While each of these technological advances in computers, the Internet, cell phones, and more are useful in their own ways, they were never meant to replace direct human interaction and communication like they seem to be doing. So the next time someone calls on the phone, answer it and say hello instead of texting in response. The next time there’s a social engagement with others, keep the cell phone silent and put away. Make it a point to spend quality time in person with those that texting has been the only means of communication.
Maybe then when enough are making these changes, it might just begin to reverse some of the problems that seem to be increasing everywhere in society today.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson