I will spare you the details as to why I have not yet upgraded my cell phone, but I am among the small minority of Americans who have not made the switch to a Smartphone. Make no mistake, I’d like one, but in some ways I am glad that I do not have such a device just yet.
Here’s the phone I currently use. Aging gracefully, isn’t it?
I know I’ll sound like an old fuddy-duddy here, but I do find so much of modern technology tiring–and I am a millennial who is on Facebook and Twitter. I post a lot less often than many of my peers and as I blog more that will certainly change, but by the time I get around to that there will be some new technological utility that will require even less cognitive thought on my part. Yet it will probably be equally exhausting because although it does not take very long to use something once, it takes considerable time to maintain and effectively engage with the increasing number of apps out there. Because I have no Smartphone it was just last year that I learned what a Vine was, a short self-made video clip of silliness that only lasts a few seconds. I have watched in amazement as friends spend an hour, a full 60 minutes, watching hundreds of 6-7 second spurts of ScareCam and SmackCam on their phones.
Glancing at the headlines will quickly confirm that technology has a dark side. It is not morally neutral. ISIS recruits using it and mob violence has been incited with it. Nefarious sexting scandals in schools where teenagers commit suicide because of cyberbullying all too frequently appears in the news. Perhaps the worst example of this technology-assisted darkness occurred few weeks ago in Virginia where two television journalists were murdered in cold blood while on the air, and the gunman then published the gruesome footage he taped of his crime shortly thereafter.
Sure, technology can be used for good too. Small businessmen were able to recoup their losses after the looting and riots in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year through the generosity of Americans who had heard of their plight through Facebook. Good news can go viral and warm the hearts and encourage people, and social media can serve as a catalyst for positive social change.
But whether employed for noble or evil causes, technology tends to distract us from being present, especially now since we have the ability to carry that distraction with us everywhere we go with our mobile devices. I currently work in retail and I marvel at how many customers I see staring down at their phones all the time. It is challenging enough receiving umpteen texts on my phone, thinking I have to reply right away, but because my flip-phone is so old I can’t even receive certain kinds of them. Much as I love you, my friends, I consider it kind of a relief that I actually can’t respond to all of them.
While I will not pretend to speak for every millennial, most of my peers who are about my age thirst for authentic community, and virtual reality falls pathetically short for real, human interaction. I am part of a wonderful church, which certainly helps, but I (we) long for more of it through the week. Sociologist Robert A. Nisbet said that culture “does not exist autonomously; it is set always in the context of social relationships.” He passed away almost two decades ago and I have to wonder what he would make of our “friending,””unfriending,” and “liking” of people and things through our screens and keyboards. So much our context for social relationships these days occurs in vacuum devoid of real heart-to-heart conversations. Google+ and Instagram may be many things, but they aren’t community.
Social media may help us connect, but it is not so good at helping us build the lasting relationships we crave. I say that as one who has met some pretty great people online. If I was constantly attending to every buzz, tweet, and sound emanating from a hi-tech Smartphone I have no doubt the relationships I do have would suffer. Will definitely have to keep this in mind as no such cell phones like mine will even be available soon. Much as I’d like an updated phone, this old one is kind of a blessing.
Photo Credit: Brandon Showalter