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Posted at 9:25 PM ET, 06/ 1/2010

Too plugged in to connect?

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Lee Merecicky
Alexandria

Regarding the May 28 Style feature “Unplugged,” on going without the Internet for a week:

I am 62 and an attorney in the District. My cellphone and e-mail are critical to my work, but I absolutely refuse to text — had it taken off my cellphone services (and I don’t read my e-mail using my phone, either). I have a home computer, but I use it for communication only as a last resort — as with this letter; otherwise, heaven knows how long it would have taken me to send this out! But, basically, my computer is my research tool.

Reading the experiences of The Post’s staff, I was particularly moved by the young woman who expected to have a conversation with her husband. How sad it is that they don’t talk together much. My 27-year-old daughter says she texts when she “doesn’t feel like actually talking to the person, because the conversation might linger.” That scared me.

I ride Metro and see so many people with phones in hand and thumbs flying, or zoned out with earphones on.

We live in a world more and more divided. Should we be cutting ourselves off from personal interaction individually as well? I don’t think this trend is good for our long-term psychological health, and it hinders our ability to be part of our communities and the wider world. Attachment, empathy, selflessness: These are primarily learned traits. How will we teach them to the next generation if this generation loses them?

By washingtonpost.com editors  | June 1, 2010; 9:25 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Metro  
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Comments

Except for the fact that I'm 72 and not an attorney, I could have written this. I have a cellphone and email, but I don't text, nor do I participate in social networking however, I do use my home computer for entertainment (games) in addition to research. Not long ago, my Wife and I went out for dinner with my Daughter (47) and Granddaughter (14). As soon as the check was paid, they both had their phones out, checking their messages. More recently, they stopped by the house while I was at work and my wife said that the whole time they were there (about an hour) they were texting on their phones. I said that it was fortunate I wasn't there because I probably would have thrown them out. Manners and common courtesy seem to be given short shrift in this "enlightened" age.

In a related vein, I don't understand the reasoning that was applied in VA and MD when crafting their laws banning the use of cell phones and/or texting while driving. Since police are not permitted to stop a vehicle simply for violating those bans what is the point. If a police officer observes a driver texting he's powerless unless the driver does something else wrong or, very possibly, has an accident which may result in the loss of life. I've read a number of reports in which people from many states say that these laws have had little effect on these phone practices, but if we change our approach to distracted driving it could change drastically. I believe that we should treat these violations as we do drunk driving with harsh, mandatory penalties; for these phones are no less a threat to my safety and that of others than is a bottle of booze or a hand full of pills.

Posted by: ancientdude | June 2, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I am 45 years old and yet I still agree with the older gentlemen. I am endlessly being pushed to text by my teenager but now also by my peers. Just call me! I caved in and got the cell phone. Now I feel like a simple task like going for a walk requires the accompaniment of a cell phone - you know, just in case. I check my email regularly (4-5 times a day) and I still have a home phone. I like to actually TALK to people. Emailing is great for simple, quick communications, texting I still can't justify (think the telegraph and question technological advancement), social networking is incredibly self-absorbed from my observations and suitable for teenagers and people who can't find something productive to do. I think there are many people who feel like the author but feel like they are being pushed into this technology era unwittingly.

Posted by: travelingmom | June 2, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

People who write statements like these don't even grasp the media they are talking about.

To the writer: "My cellphone and e-mail are critical to my work, but I absolutely refuse to text". I hate to break it to you, but there is no difference between texting and emailing. It isn't technology that is the problem, only your limited understanding of its potential.

To the ancientdude (way to sell the handle): "Manners and common courtesy seem to be given short shrift in this "enlightened" age." I'm tired of the constant crap from seniors about how people were so much nicer in your youth. Perhaps more people were superficially polite in situations, but there were also way more nasty haters who were openly racist and sexist among many other things. If your children need better manners, blame yourself - not their phone's ability to text.

Finally, you both miss the point. You are hypocritically singling out a particular techonolgy that you don't have a personal feel for, and claiming it's inherently bad. You give examples of people abusing it, but not of anyone using it for good- your implication is that there is no possible "good" reason to text. No useful, productive reaosn.

Just in the modern era, people said the same thing about cars, telephones, tvs, computers, cell phones, the internet. Technology is only as good as the people who use it.

Posted by: jenms | June 2, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

" I think there are many people who feel like the author but feel like they are being pushed into this technology era unwittingly."

So what you are all really saying is not that the technology isn't useful or valid, or that it's bad for people, "disconnecting them". You're just stubborn and resentful that you might need to learn something new. And honestly, that's your right. But that still doesn't make texting (or emailing or twittering) inherently bad.

Posted by: jenms | June 2, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

jenms you missed the point completely.

While I can't speak for Lee, I can assure you that I have more than a passing acquaintance with technology and I'm possibly more aware of its potential than you could ever be. The point is...that potential is being wasted on drivel.

Yes, cell phones, texting, twitter and the rest of it have played important roles in recent disasters and political upheavals, but for the most part it's all crap. When I referred to the lack of manners and common courtesy I did not hearken back to my youth, but to a period less than ten years ago before the advent of smart phones, net books, iPads, etc. The technology has changed people. Prior to these devices, when people came to visit or when I would visit we engaged in conversation and were attentive to one another. Ten years ago, I didn't have to constantly dodge people on sidewalks who are so engrossed in their texting that they become oblivious to their surroundings. And when someone does walk into me, they glare at me as if I had done something wrong and offer no apology. You don't seem to realize the dramatic changes that have been wrought upon society in less than ten years; changes, which in the minds of many of us are not for the better.

Yes, in years gone by, racists, bigots, sexists and all the rest were far more vocal, but that is rather meaningless. Unfortunately, I have bad news for you: all of that hate still exists and to a much greater degree than you might want to admit. I imagine that you visit blogs and surf the internet, but you apparently don't see much. Hatred seems to have a much greater voice in your cyber world than it ever did in mine

I agree that the technologies of today hold great potential for society, but that potential is not realized in the Tweets of self-centered twits.

If you could take the time, I would recommend reading, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man" by Marshall McLuhan. Although he was writing about television, it relates.

Posted by: ancientdude | June 3, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

"When I referred to the lack of manners and common courtesy I did not hearken back to my youth, but to a period less than ten years ago before the advent of smart phones, net books, iPads, etc. The technology has changed people."

Once again, you prove my point. Which was that you are taking the behavior of people who would be jerks no matter what and using it to try and “prove” that some piece of technology is to blame. False causality. You act as if only "new" technology has had what you perceive as a "bad effect". But the same thing has been said by every generation about every technological breakthrough in communications that changed their norm. But that's just stubbornness and scape-goating. It's not the technology that's to blame for rudeness in society. It's the level of self-indulgence that most of you baby boomers instilled in your kids. I'm 20 years younger than your daughter, and yet I can manage to sit through dinner without texting people. It's because I was raised right.

And isn't it convenient for you to just dismiss as irrelevant any facts that contradict your own argument: "Yes, cell phones, texting, twitter and the rest of it have played important roles in recent disasters and political upheavals, but for the most part it's all crap."
---Why is that crap? That seems to me to make a pretty good case for the concrete usefulness of the technology.

"Yes, in years gone by, racists, bigots, sexists and all the rest were far more vocal, but that is rather meaningless."
--- Why is it meaningless? Because you're a white dude and it didn't affect your idyllic life? Internet hate is nowhere near the same as being called slurs to your face, and it's insulting for you to equate them to each other.

"I agree that the technologies of today hold great potential for society, but that potential is not realized in the Tweets of self-centered twits."
--- If you really do believe this then what you need to do is condemn self-centered people, not entire mediums of technology. Whether they have twitter or not, self-centered people are going to be self-centered and annoying. The smart phone didn’t make them that way.

Posted by: jenms | June 4, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

jenms: In the words of the Bard, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." I know that I’m making an assumption as to your sex, but since you made one about my race, I feel that I’m entitled.

Is your problem with my age, my parenting skills, my race or my opinions on the subject? Initially, the only reason that I mentioned my age was in deference to the author who also identified himself by his age. There seems to be an underlying anger towards me in your posts as if I’m someone whose opinions are irrelevant and that, in some sense, I bear responsibility for much of that which I am criticizing. As you might expect, I disagree.

Not to put too fine a point on things, but I’m not a Baby-Boomer – I’m too old for that appellation. I’m 72, married for 49 years to the same woman, raised 3 children and I still work full-time. Which means, that I’ve been witness to every technological advance made by human beings since 1938; most of them good, some not so good. Based upon your comments, you were born in 1983 and in that year, I had been using computers and computer based systems for 24 years – still do. That means that I am not ignorant of the technology at issue. And, I did not make any reference to the age of those that I criticized for there are many in my age group who are as bad if not worse than younger folks. As to my parenting skills, I don’t believe that the perfect parent exists and, like you, I detest those who indulge their child’s every wish. My children will readily attest to the fact that they were not indulged, as a matter of fact, they were denied much of what others received from their parents.

You made a correct assumption regarding my race; yes, I am a “white dude” who has led a decent life, but one that has been far from idyllic. When I used the term “meaningless”, referencing your comments on “haters”, I was saying that the issue was not germane to this discussion. I still don’t understand why you chose to raise that issue in your disagreement with me; it was as if you were saying that my critique supported hatred. That type of speech is vile and disgusting and unfortunately, irrespective of the speakers’ ages, it still occurs. I mentioned the hate on the internet because these same people now have access to enormous audiences when they spew their hate. But now, as then, in a free and open society we’re stuck with it; freedom of speech is a double-edged sword, but I wouldn’t try to change it nor, does that mean that I condone what is said.

There’s one thing that I’m curious about: with your strident support of social media and your criticisms of myself and other contributors, I’ve seen no comment from you about my distracted driving comments. Does that mean that you’re in agreement with me or do you feel that I also don’t have a grasp on that issue?

Posted by: ancientdude | June 7, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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