Under the Sun
Connecting electronically can disconnect real world
LEGS dangling out the door, two boys sat in the van outside of Longs, hunched over rectangles of plastic, still except for frantic movement of their fingers.
From time to time, they'd grunt in reaction to what was happening on the video game screens, but nothing else seemed to exist for them.
Not the humid breeze or sunshine, not the people and rattling shopping carts going by, not the cars shuttling in and out of the parking lot, not the doves that pecked on the ground nearby, not the hollers from the school gym across the street -- nothing but the electronically generated images on the two-by-four-inch displays.
At least the teenager sitting in the front seat was somewhat aware of his surroundings. He'd occasionally glance back at them, but his eyes would lose focus again, his mind recaptured by what was pouring through his iPod.
No longer am I disconcerted when I encounter ear-budded, hands-free cell phone users yapping away as they walk down the street.
The first time I ran into one of these beings was at a crosswalk outside the state judiciary building. I thought the guy was talking to me.
I said, "Excuse me?"
He said, "Just a second," put his hand over the voice piece, and barked, "What?"
I said, "Are you talking to me?"
"No," he huffed, pointing to his ear. He turned away as if I'd invaded his privacy.
While I was in New York last year, I thought the two women walking together up Madison Avenue in front of me were having a strange conversation since they were both talking at the same time. But no, each was on a cell phone with someone else.
I see this happening more and more these days, where electronic connections override the physical links among people. A group sipping coffee at the same table at Starbucks has only proximity in common when individually clipped to cell phones or in separate worlds yoked to music machines.
Interestingly, many don't seem to be offended that their companions prefer to direct their attention elsewhere, as if the company at hand isn't enough.
It may be a generation thing, but I don't get it. I don't understand the need for personal electronic devices that take a person away from the here and now.
Cell phones offer a convenience for some and a sense of safety for others. However, they are also intrusive, forcing a person to be available when they might not want to be. Besides, I think that people use their phones just because they can. There may be little to say, but they'll dial up all the same.
And talking isn't the only use for the gadgets. Now, cell phone users can watch television programs and videos, play games, take and send photographs, compose and route messages and even shop via wireless transmission.
Meanwhile, children, according to a news report, spend far less time playing outside or with other kids since video games became common. Fewer ride bicycles, go swimming or simply fool around in the backyard or at the neighborhood park. They don't build pretend boats with brooms and buckets, make mud pies, fashion airplanes from leaves and twigs or angel's wings from palm fronds.
Television and other manufactured stimulation have taken the place of imagination and wonder. Part of the reason is fear. There is little risk in zooming over harsh terrain in a video-made race other than running out the game's battery. Another part is convenience. Children can play the game wherever they are and their parents need not be attentive.
As for cell phoners' incessant chatter and need for simulated stimulus, it may be a way to avoid being alone.
Whatever the case, it seems the real world is not enough.
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Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org