First of all, I want to make a disclaimer: I have nothing personal against iPhones, iPods, and other electronic devices that have become such a staple of everyday life. Neither do I have a problem with Apple and other manufacturers. Hell, I even wanted to get an iPhone, if it wasn’t prohibitively expensive for my tiny budget (which is becoming nonexistent as time goes by). What I do have a serious problem with is how it has taken away a lot of quality time that otherwise normal, emotionally-healthy families would have, at a bare minimum.  Once upon a time, before the advent of TV, before even the Industrial Revolution, it could be argued that the ties between families were strong, the right values could be passed on with confidence, and there were ways that members could strengthen those familial ties, with curiously mute rituals.

Then the Industrial Revolution came, along with all forms of improvised entertainment that corporate masters had to create in a hurry, in order to keep the masses amused.  TV and radio were the by-products of that era. It had its initial share of detractors. Who, for good reason, ranted that such entertainment would destroy what frail ties between parents and children existed, already exhausted by the 9-to-5 grind. When cheeky Baby Boomer programmers and their successors put on shows of questionable content, that more than proved that point.  Nonetheless, there are many good programs from all genres have served to be a gathering time and place, a moment for families to be stimulated or entertained, to talk about certain aspects of popular culture. On occasion, maybe even discourse on a good idea (Wow!). For that purpose, TV has served as a consolidator of sorts.  Even through its other various incarnations — movies, cable TV, and so forth — it has done its job well in that sense.  There’s an early episode of the Simpsons (“There’s No Disgrace Like Home”) wherein the eponymous family of the series undergo some extreme methods of therapy, including electrocution, in an effort to produce “family bliss or double your money back.” When that fails, the doctor gives them their money back — which Homer uses to buy a new TV, the Simpsons’ unifying force by default.

Nearly 20 years later, entertainment blazes across high-speed internet, and comes in all shapes and forms.  TV is no longer the mass-media entertainer it once was.  With the developments of technology, people now hunger for new, more compact toys for their amusement.  As the cliche goes, “Even instant gratification isn’t fast enough these days.” Tech manufacturers have all but swept up savvy users in a wave of technophilia, from Palm Pilots and other hand-helds, iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, Shuffles, etc., etc. Facebook and other social networking devices can be accessed from any or all of the above.  That’s really great, and so are all the other cool programs that come with it.

no_iphone

What’s not so great is when I’m sitting in a room with two people in my family or friends, who happen to have iPhones, in their hands as we speak.  And then all they do is spend half the time on their iPhones… looking at stuff.  When I ask them, they get defensive. “I’m working!” they will usually snap. Or, “I’m looking up useful stuff!” Or some other lame excuse.  Well, if that’s the case, why even bother sitting in the same room with me? Why even bother showing up at all, when it’s You + Your iPhone, and I’m not even in that equation? What’s even more sad is that, after an argument, a consequence of what said device may cause, as I write this post and eventually post this on Facebook, said family member might stumble upon this, and they will be just two rooms away. Just as ludicrous is when two sibs text each other… when they’re just a wall apart, with no particular danger or circumstance requiring it.

Nobody even bothers talking anymore. People have used their iPhones as a crutch, to hide whatever awkward issues need to be addressed. There are a million things people want to say to each other, to voice feelings, frustrations, general angst about the state of affairs of the world.  Or sometimes, we just need someone to reach out to us. And what do the rest of us do? Reach for the nearest electronic device and avoid them altogether.  I could go on and say that tech companies now have a responsibility to advise people that using your iPhone should never, under any circumstances, be a substitute for any human interaction. Joke about it all you want: Sure, you can play games with your phone, do numerous cool apps, listen to music and what not.  But will you be able to carry on a meaningful relationship with it? That $400 model you hold in your hands right now will be thrown away like a used cheap $10 whore in a few years. Can you seriously say the same about family members?  With a TV, everyone can watch and no one has to be left out of the entertainment. Can you say the same about a handheld device? Will the rest of us in a room be able to partake of the entertainment that only one person is enjoying? That’s why they call it a personal handheld device. You enjoy it on your own time. It’s not a general handheld device, so no one else can enjoy it now, can they? Did you users stop to think that maybe, just maybe, you’re making the rest of us non-users feel awkward and inadequate, because we don’t have these toys?

Note that I haven’t said anything against these gizmos specifically. Because some of us, myself included, want one, too. We just can’t afford them. Bashing technology like this would be like me saying that guns are bad.  And, as that other cliche goes, “Guns don’t kill people, other people kill people.” Now replace that with “iPhones don’t cause socially-awkward moments, people using iPhones can cause socially-awkward moments.” I could go on a tangent about how I would use a handgun in a heartbeat, if it meant the difference between life and death. To a lesser degree, I would use an electronic device – if I could afford one – if it meant saving on time, energy and space, if it meant improving my life.

I will draw the line with technology, if it gets in the way of interpersonal relationships. Last I checked, I was still human – not some iPhone-flipping, gadget-playing, apps-adding, Facebook-posting machine. I may be socially-awkward sometimes, but even I won’t let that get in the way, if I can help it. The same thing goes for all of us. If we’re ever going to continue having families with good, strong, familial ties — don’t substitute love, affection and human interaction with toys – and that includes all electronic devices. They are tools for work and amusement, and maybe even another source of bonding. But if you can’t share them… leave them in your pocket, or your bags, where they belong. Use them wisely. And spend what rare time you have on Earth with your loved ones, talking about stuff that needs to be talked about.  You may not realize it, but they’re waiting. And they’ll love you more for it, more than any bright, shiny toy you can give them.

“Keep your toys, I don’t want them; what I do want you to do is talk to me.”

Copyright Anabasius 2009

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