By Hyon O’Brien
Few would disagree that the wide availability of computers and other gadgets has improved our daily life immensely by making all sorts of things get done with greater speed, ease and fun.
We see daily how the efficiency that technology affords has impacted our life in a positive way. Fifty years ago my mother, even with a live-in maid, was barely able to stay on top of the laundry generated by nine children and three adults while putting three meals on the table each day for these voracious eaters. No washer and dryer, no warm water from the faucet, no modern stove, microwave oven, refrigerator, electric rice cooker or other helpful appliances. No thermostat to control the central heating. No smartphone.
These days, we have such an easy life: even if one forgets to bring an e-ticket to the airline check-in counter, a few strokes of the keyboard by the agent can pull up the necessary information for the passenger to get on the plane without much hassle. No more payment of penalties for lost tickets (we had this problem in 1995 when a pickpocket ran off with my bag on the Riviera, of all places). My bank in Seoul contains all my accounts in its computer databases and I can readily deal with them online to transfer funds and pay bills from wherever I happen to be.
We don’t have to sit at the library and go through a huge stack of reference books to glean the details needed for research. Entering a few key words in any search engine generates tons of specific information. If we want to hear a favorite aria, we can find easily it on YouTube, with a choice of any number of singers. We can now order all kinds of things online, not just books but it seems almost anything _ no need to spend hours traveling to the shops for what we need, and no schlepping involved.
I recently got a smartphone and am amazed by the range of applications that are available. I can speak into the phone to search for the nearest restaurant, bank or government office. While biking I can enjoy a stream of wonderful 60’s pop songs. Instantly I can get the current weather for Seoul, Miami Beach and Washington, D.C. My beloved friends in Korea must be sick of the pictures I e-mail to them instantly from my phone camera. The list can go on and on.
If I am convinced about my easy life compared to that of my mother, why don’t I keep my mouth shut and just enjoy the fruits of technology? Because I have this troublesome thought brewing in my mind concerning the negative impact all this may have on our human relationships and family life.
One day last year riding in a taxi to a meeting in Seoul, I got into a conversation with the driver. I think he was heavy-hearted about something and sensed he could unload it on me. He was upset about his teenage son: when he is at home, he rarely speaks to his parents. He goes directly to his computer and is immediately engrossed in games and other online activities. The cab driver wanted to know what the world was coming to. He felt he was working in vain, and his motivation to work for his family was evaporating.
One friend was relating to me a recent family scene: four family members were together in the house but not talking to each other. Each one was engrossed in a different gadget. So they may have been under the same roof but were not really present for one another.
I have seen many people at restaurants or other public places constantly checking their messages on blackberries and laptops and not interacting with anyone around them.
These days it appears that the younger generation, as well as computer-savvy people of a more advanced age who are comfortable with technology, seem to prefer communicating with others electronically rather than the old fashioned way of talking. Rather than developing interpersonal skills, things are done in isolation sitting behind a computer and looking at a screen.
Some people become addicted and totally lose touch with reality, as evidenced in the recent horrible case of a couple whose baby starved to death from parental neglect while they were obsessively playing computer games. Internet crime is rising including kiddy porn and other unspeakable things. One couple I know got a divorce because of the husband’s infidelity arising from an illicit computer romance. We know that rumors and slander circulating in cyberspace have driven well-known celebrities to take their own lives.
Health concerns are another negative: developing poor eye sight, carpal tunnel syndrome, and backaches, becoming overweight, and in some cases depression, and who knows, maybe even early deaths.
With the development of automobiles we killed the walking culture. With the appearance of computers, smartphones, and other devices, we are now killing direct interaction and family life. Let’s watch the danger signs and do something to preserve the sanctity of human relationships.
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.