Monday, June 27, 2011

American Epidemic: Technology ADD


I've touched on this topic before, but the national epidemic of Technology Attention Deficit Disorder (TADD) appears to be worsening. I think TADD is a very real affliction. Or perhaps it's just plain manners have gone out the door. Just because people can access Internet and phone anywhere at anytime doesn't mean they should and that it's appropriate in every setting.

As a food lover who so enjoys savoring food and doesn't think we do that enough, what a sad sight to see a person shoveling food with a fork in one hand, and looking down at the gadget in their other hand while in the company of others. Going out for a meal is a luxury, not an entitlement. I can eat far cheaper at home. But if I go out with my sweetheart, my friends or my family, I really look forward to enjoying the food in front of me and engaging with the person I'm with. When you take out a gadget during a meal and text away, as my friend Jennifer who pens Heart Laundry and has a writer site, said, another person is now with you at the meal all of a sudden. An uninvited third party. I also think the message you're sending is the person you're with cannot hold your attention for a full meal. When cell phones started appearing (and following cell phone rudeness), many were banned in dining rooms. I wish all gadgets were banned in dining rooms. They distract from those you are with, and to the people around you.

It's not just teenagers. Adults everywhere are developing the mannerisms and attention spans of teenagers. When I was eating at Rutherford Pancake House with my mother recently, in my line of view was a man I'd guess around 60, who I'm supposing he was with his sister or wife and the man's father. The entire time the man was typing away, and didn't stop until the food came. Next to me was a woman of 40 with her mother who kept typing away and at one point got a paper and started reading it. Observing awkward scenes like this, I always feel bad for the person across from their gadget-obsessed companion. I wonder, are people becoming so socially inept that one cannot keep up a conversation for an entire meal? I don't think Smart Phones are making us smarter. Quite the opposite.

My friend Kristin who celebrates the beauty of the written word (which we also don't do enough) on her poetry blog Wordfall, observed this in her post, "Whatever Happened to Solitude?"

"Today's culture doesn't support solitude and solitary thinking. Collectivism has become the new movement – groupthink. With the development and progress of social media, you're looked at as if you've got 2 heads if you don't want to belong to these sites....I don't need to see everyone's pictures, wall comments, pokes, etc. How would I have time to clear my own head at the end of the day? I'd much rather listen to the songbirds outside my window or other nature sounds. So many people have forgotten how important it is to tune out and decompress."

Isn't Kristin so right? Tune out. Decompress. We can't do that always on a device or turning to social networking sites to see what everyone's doing.

I was in an elevator and someone was speaking about an iPhone app that tells you how well you are sleeping. How does someone not know that on their own? Do we need technology to tell us how to think and feel?

In this New York Times article on the depressed summer job market for teenagers, one teenager said, "I worry it's going to be like this all summer, just sitting here bored with nothing to do but text or go on the computer." Can't comprehend what else there is to do but text and go on the computer? I hope this doesn't speak to the generation we're raising. Channeling Owen Meany: WELL MAYBE IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO PAY FOR YOUR PHONE AND THE MONTHLY SERVICE PLANS, YOU'D HAVE MORE MONEY!

A CBS News story in 2010 declared,

"You've heard of Generation X. Now meet Generation Text. A Pew Research Center study says nearly one out of three kids between 12 and 17 years old send over a 100 texts a day. At school these days, the cell phone is now as common as the backpack.

Teens say they don't know anyone who doesn't have a cell.

And four out of five teens admit to sleeping with their cell phones or keeping them near their beds."

How do so many teenagers and pre-teens have a phone with Internet in such cash-strapped times? When I needed a ride home from track practice or other extracurricular activity in high school, I had a quarter to make a phone call. It feels like the population has been sold on that these devices are not only a need, but an entitlement.

Social ineptness and rudeness, why is hardly anyone questioning the health implications of having people from young children onward on computers, cell phones, and other devices all the time? I increasingly see photos of children in schools in front of computers instead of text books. Young children everywhere are glued to their gadgets. To me, this is not progress.

Speaking of health and safety, drivers who text are taking it to a whole other level, with potential fatal consequences. Texting while driving likely caused more than 16,000 road fatalities between 2002 and 2007, a study released by the American Journal of Public Health, reported The Christian Science Monitor. When I look out the window of the bus, it's horrifying the number of people typing away in moving traffic. Are we this delusionally self-important to cause harm to other motorists because we think instant communication is so important? I'm not a fan of aggressive police ticketing, but in this case, ticket away.

Where are our priorities as a nation? Time and time again with food (one of the few things we consume that's a "need" versus a "want"), it's give me the cheapest thing available, no questions asked, the cost to our health, animals and environment be damned. I don't care if it's giving me diabetes, a chicken is boiled alive, or manure pools are polluting our waterways, I need to pay for that Internet access, including for my 12 year old!

Calculate what you pay on a monthly basis, then times 12, then times that over a decade, on your monthly bills. I estimated that I wasted at least $6,000 on cable television over a decade before I cancelled it this year. I could definitely use $6,000 for more important things.

Distracted states of America.

I'm really frightened by our population so willing to give hard earned money to phone, cable and oil companies, but thinks very little about its food, air and water supply. Even in the lean economic times of 2011, too many Americans of modest means seem more interested in status symbol designer handbags, shoes and clothes, all the while clutching the latest iPhone ignoring those they are with (my sister calls this "Karashianitis").

Above all, our society is distracted about what matters most and is unquestioning - except for when they ask, "Why isn't this cheaper?" Cheaper food (but we're throwing 25 percent of it in the garbage). Cheaper oil (but the drill faster, more, now mentality caused the BP oil spilling taking human and animal life). Cheaper clothes (even if child is toiling away in a plant in Indonesia or China). When a society doesn't question, it is ripe for control and manipulation.

In short, I worry about our nation's path and priorities, do you? America, can you hear me now?


  1. I know you can't see me, but I'm giving you a standing ovation over this fabulous post. Bravo! Bravo!

  2. When I was a kid, before the technology boom, being rude at the table was easier to spot. I recall a man with his wife or girlfriend at a restaurant, waiting for their food to be served, who pulled out a newspaper and began reading it upright, completely covering his face from his companion. Even as a 9-yr old, I was shocked at the rudeness. With handheld gadgets, the rudeness has become a little bit less blatant than a magazine or newspaper held up high. These gadgets are useful but in the wrong hands they can lower the tone of any social gathering.

  3. Thank you!

    As I write this, I just passed a bunch of young girls outside in my apartment complex (maybe around 12 years old at the most) all clutching their phones. Verizon would be proud.

    Rudness transcends time. Lower the tone is right. I've been at dinner parties where as soon as the main course is consumed, adults are pulling out their gadgets and looking up Facebook statuses. I think my sister is right, that site should be called Stalkerbook. It reminds me of little children who need coloring books to keep their mind occupied.

    A lot of people talk about their grandparents who survived the Depression who had a lifelong thrift. We went through the Great Recession and it seems nothing was learned. Aren't our bad spending habits part of the problem? Every 12-year-old with a phone with Internet?

  4. Trying to remember what we did when I was 12 that indicated we were brought up by wolves..?
    There had to be something.
    That's what 12-yr olds do.
    Just now everyone is 12...

  5. I don't know, wolves, and the animal kingdom, seem more civilized than we do with regard to the treatment of the environment. Someone of an older generation recently told me that she worries about what's in the air since everyone started using cell phones - I wonder too.

  6. Got me thinking...Animals do treat the environment better than humans. For example, drive on I-287 south by exit 53 or Bloomingdale and you will see a mountain, or what used to be a mountain, carved up by tractors. It's mountaintop removal, today's alternative to drilling underground which is more costly for the company. It's ugly now and it will still be ugly after the mountain has been completely bulldozed. Animals take from nature what they only need and if they do change the landscape that comes in a small scale, like beavers building a dam.

  7. Save for some invasive species, I whole-heartedly agree Ted. Our relationship with nature seems to be about take, not give or respect.

    Social annoyances aside, a nation distracted - mired self absorption, ignorance and apathy - seems the perfect brew for manipulation by higher powers, including those who can severely damage the environment. I'll be writing more about a very important energy matter in a future post.

  8. AnonymousJuly 03, 2011

    Catherine, thanks for sharing your provokative essay here. I think it is so true that when answering the phone or text during dinner out, we are inviting another into the experience of the moment. Why not put them on speaker and introduce them? Seriously, thanks for the great post. I always learn something new here!

  9. Thanks Jennifer! Precisely why I pen this labor of love, to share ideas and provoke thought, and hear ideas and attain knowledge in return.

    I was once enjoying lunch at a fine French restaurant, and a woman's phone rang and she actually put her daughter on speaker! I heard more than I wanted to about her daughter's wedding invitations.

    I've had so many people share their horror stories with me about rude texting behavior, I felt compelled to write about it. One person said, why does this person make plans to go out with me if they spend the whole time on the phone texting their boyfriend?

  10. AnonymousJuly 05, 2011

    Thank you for adding a selection of my own blog to your post, Catherine. I hope that more people start talking about this issue of being distracted and constantly plugged in. It's frightening that so many people sleep with their gadgets right next to their beds -- and turned on. What are we becoming?

  11. Thank you Kristin, for your words of inspiration to quiet our harried minds and souls. I relish my weekend time with a book, at the farm, in the park, watching a film, etc.: all unplugged. Everywhere I go, though, there seem to be gadgets and people typing away. What about living in the moment?