Too Connected? Too Bad!

My old phone broke a few weeks ago. It was a flip phone, which I had specifically sought out so I could keep it easily in my pocket without accidentally dialing anyone and some other logical reasons I’d worked out, but now forget. It had been going for a couple of months. The hinge had a crack and gave an ominous whine every time it was opened. In its normal state, the phone was built to withstand heavy-duty impacts and had survived countless gravity-induced collisions—until it didn’t.

So, a new phone was needed. I walked into my provider’s store, with the single goal of getting a similar phone. I walked out, almost 90 minutes later, with a smartphone. I’m still not certain how I got sucked into the time-space-vortex where Troy (the salesman) was able to push a smartphone into my hands, but there it was, new and shiny and all excited to belong to me.

More or less connected is an ongoing discussion. Gen-X, the undefinable generation who saw the birth and growth of the personal home computer, the internet (boom and bust), and the rise and fall of the Crack-berry. Now, that most-productive of current demographics, those born early 1960s to mid-1980s, the one with the greatest amount of disposable income, is looking around at the world the previous generation created and wondering what the hell is going on.

Whatever happened to knowing your milk man, your mail carrier by first name? What happened to inviting all your neighbors over for barbeques? What happened to talking with Mr. Hooper over the white-picket fence before getting back to push-mowing your lawn?

What are selfie-sticks and why?

The truth is, nothing happened to those things. They weren’t ever really a part of Gen-X’s world. Sure, some folk had them, but the majority of us were part of technology’s exponential growth that reached critical mass while we were still doe-eyes and innocent.

Well, I was squinty-eyed, but that was cured by laser surgery.

Still, it seems like it’s a list of things that are connecting us more and more in a virtual world so that we can alienate ourselves from our immediate surroundings.

To accurately assess the validity of that argument we need to take a much wider view. Not just the black-and-white Leave it to Beaver perception of a post-war United States at the pinnacle of its standing. No, no. We need to keep in mind that diseases like polio and the measles were common, and they commonly constantly killed and maimed children on a regular basis until the early 60s. Technology is claimed to be a problem or even THE problem. But I’d think you’d agree that it has the capacity to both increase our interaction (railroad mail, telegram, radio, television, telephone, internet, etc.) and reduce our interaction (all the above).

To forward the argument determine let’s look at just one aspects: the potential for meaningful interaction between humans. Smartphones, tablets, the internet and some birds with poor diplomacy skills seem to be disassociating us from the world in which we live and the people with whom we would otherwise interact. So we need take into consideration the degree of potential interaction which could occur on a regular basis (leisure time v. work time), and if technology is increasing or decreasing that.

It’s almost too simple a question to answer.

 Historically, we have more free/leisure time now than at any other point in human history, so our potential for interaction has increased dramatically. It doesn’t seem like it, because we live now, in the 21st Century, but compared to our friends on the other end of the industrial revolution spectrum (mid to late 1800s), we have it easy. Consider that we have 4+ hours per day (on average) compared to a little better than one hour each day (if that) to use as we please.

Most of us also get a weekend, or a schedule that provides a couple of consecutive days off. The first five-day work week was noted in 1908, a little over a hundred years ago, although it didn’t really take hold for another 20 years when Henry Ford insisted on it, and a few unions decided that seemed like a good thing to demand. Even then, there wasn’t such a thing as a standard 40-hour work week until it was mandated by federal law in 1940. Of course, that doesn’t mean we only work 40-hours, but it’s the standard basis these days, as opposed to the 75+ hours that most people expected to work. In fact, we in the US typically work almost 50 hours every week on average (please—on average).

We’re not even taking into account our higher standard of living, our increased life expectancy, our increase in general healthcare, decrease in child mortality, and the existence of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies!

So is technology really a problem? It’s provided us not only with the chance at nearly five hours of free time, but the ability to waste an hour taking selfies, another taking pictures of food, cats in costumes, and babies crying and still have two or three hours of free time to argue on the internet with complete strangers about whether or not we’re too connected.

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