Tuesday, February 1, 2011


At times, one is mystified how quickly humans develop addiction to things and adopt life style habits to accommodate their insatiable craving. Electronic addiction began with Bell’s telephone, crept in slowly with radio in the early twenties, expanded to television, accelerated in the seventies with the arrival of video games, and exploded when personal computers arrived on the scene. Today—with the combining of several communication technologies—society faces a full-fledged electronic dependence of gigantic proportion.

With the advent of cell phones, things began to change—rapidly. Where as before, callers had restricted mobility governed by the length of cord attached to hard-wired phones, cell phones gave unlimited mobility and availability to anyone with access to wireless technology.

As technology advanced, several electronic inter-relationships were created. Telephones, television, video games, computers, calculators and a sundry of gadgets formed the Internet’s mosaic of electrons and silicon circuits. Soon, a tsunami of microwave frequencies covered nearly every nook and cranny of planet Earth. Everyone, it seems wanted to peek through Microsoft’s Windows or take a healthy bite of the newest computerized Apple.

With the acceleration of technology, everyone could be in touch—anywhere, anytime. Using the appropriate device, one can watch movies, read books, check email, play games, plan schedules, list appointments, listen to music, talk, or text. Should one be so inclined, pictures and photographs can be transmitted instantaneously recording the present, moments before it becomes the past. As long as power is available, one has command of the information world at their fingertips: via desktop, laptop, brief case or shirt pocket.

But these advances come with a price. There is a type of electronic isolation that is unsettling: chips and circuitry erode personal face-to-face contact. In the years BC (Before Computers) individuals would actually visit with each other—in person. As wonderful as the telephone is, most conversations were prelude to an actual get together where one could experience and exchange human interaction through body language, eye contact, touch as well as words. One received a sense of connection by processing the emotional immediacy of transmitted signals to the senses.

Radio, unlike telephones or television, gives one the freedom to listen and do other things. Housewives in the 30’s and 40’s listened to radio programs while completing domestic chores. Old time radio was user-friendly, hands-free imagination. Household duties continued uninterrupted while listening to one’s favorite broadcast. As radios became more portable, listeners could enjoy programs wherever they chose. The distraction or loss of focus while listening to the radio was minimal. Television—not so much. Ears are far superior for multi-tasking than are eyes.

With television, further changes entered the American scene. Dinner hour now had an additional guest at the table, or, in front of TV trays. Family conversation was curtailed as watching took priority over talking. Television required a “captive” audience. It didn’t take long for television to separate family members requiring additional TV sets within the house. Competition between phone and screen vied for attention. Both appliances encourage a degree of solitary privacy. Multi-task activities are not compatible with TV viewing. Nevertheless, America eagerly embraces members of the electronic family and their offspring.

In contemporary society, it seems too many people believe they can multi-task using their eyes and still stay focused on primary activities. How many drivers talk on the phone while driving and get so involved in conversation they lose concentration and jeopardize others in traffic? Countless people, with thumbs flashing across keypads, text as they drive, walk, cross the street or try to do other things. Is it not possible to dine out without answering the cell phone? And why is there such a need to share one’s conversation with the entire restaurant? Is it too much of a mental task to turn off one’s cell phone during church service? Is one so consumed with their own self-importance that they need to be wired so strangers can see their electronic devices and secretly envy them? In funeral homes during wake services, cell phones signal one’s insensitivity. Videos flood the Internet with “electronic addicts” who walk into walls, fall into fountains, and damage vehicles, while texting. At sporting events, social gatherings, shopping malls, stores, classrooms, hallways, automobiles, and even public restrooms--addiction to texting is rampant. Can anyone be this important—or this lonely?

In order to curb addiction of an electronic kind, there is need for higher degrees of self- discipline, better decision-making, and a willingness to use these devices responsibly.

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