My mother has gone into a new job, where she works with a number of incredibly well-educated, dynamic women.  As a result, where I used to be her source for thought-provoking news and articles, it seems the tables have turned, or at least evened.

In this case, my mother sent me an AARP article regarding the “vanishing art of conversation.”  Once you get past the brief chuckle (“Ha, ha, the senior citizen publication is whining about Twitter and Facebook!”), the article has some very good points.  (“We tweet, we text, we e-mail. Everybody’s chatting, but is anybody listening?  Why America needs to revive the vanishing art of conversation.  We need to talk.”  By David Dudley, AARP Magazine, March and April 2010.)  Particularly this one:

“Though hand-held devices now encroach on some treasured preserves of good talk – restaurant meals, an afternoon at the ballpark, the privacy of your car – [Daniel] Menaker’s chief villain isn’t technology per se but our work-obsessed lives. A job culture that in the Twenty-first Century, which demands always-on connectivity is flooding our days and nights with the clipped conventions and I-want-it-yesterday expectations of the workplace.  The result: a nation of hyperconnected hermits, thumbs furiously working our BlackBerrys,each of us a master of an ever-smaller personal universe.”  The article goes on to explain how this is fragmenting an essential balance with our human relationships.  “We are so distracted by digital traffic that we’re forgetting the importance of listernng – and of the listener.”

It made for an interesting read.  I was expecting the article to talk about “Technology – BAD.  Luddites – GOOD.”  However, it did not necessarily say that texting, email, and smartphones were bad, but rather our human reactions to them – that is, we allow them to become electronic leashes.

My fiance has said more than once that the number of times he’s glad he does NOT have a smartphone far outnumber the times he’s thought it might be useful.  I tend to be more obsessed with communication, and staying in constant contact tends to be more of an obsession for me than it does for him.  I do find it to be addictive – no one in particular is expecting me to respond to their requests ASAP (and if they are, well, too bad – my Blackberry is for personal use, so people can just calm down), but I find myself obsessed with checking my email, or logging on to see who is tweeting about what.  It’s very hard to unplug once you’ve been plugged in.

However, there are benefits.  The use of technology has not only allowed for old friends and distant relatives to keep in touch with more ease, but also the opportunity to meet and interact with people that you otherwise never would have crossed paths with.  One quote in this article struck me:

“I went to lunch with an older friend at his private club – the kind of haven, in days long past, where Baltimore’s elite might unwind the issues of the day between cocktails and cigars. Here, I thought, I would find the real deal: a BlackBerry-free space engineered for old-school adult conversation, peopled by dedicated adherents of the art.”

This made me think of the Albany Tweetups!  Sure, we do bring our smartphones so we can post pictures of the festivities and otherwise make comments about it, however it is an opportunity to socialize in a public space, and get to know the people behind their electronic personas.  In other words, technology affords the opportunity for social butterflies to be more social, and for loners to sink deeper into their shells.  If not for technology, these individuals would still be true to their nature, anyway – technology just paves the way.

Regardless, it is important to be conscious of how much we depend on our wireless life.  Unplugging once in a while and remembering that most of life is (or should be) a physical experience, is a basic and fundamental – yet, perhaps, oft forgotton) tenet.

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