A few months ago, my teenage son Alex was competing in a national weightlifting competition outside St. Louis. The morning of his competition, I decided to forego the predictable hotel breakfast for fresh-cooked food at an omelet joint within walking distance.
Always cautious to ensure he made his weight class, Alex had his breakfast carefully measured out in the hotel room. So, it was just me and a table for one on a busy Saturday at the local breakfast hangout.
When I sat down I immediately saw a table of six young adults near me, their heads bowed. I thought to myself, “Ah, good ol’ God-fearing Midwesterners! Gotta love ‘em! They’re as American as apple pie!”
After I ordered, I couldn’t help but notice out of the corner of my eye that those at the nearby table were still praying! “Wow,” I thought. “That’s one long prayer!” I mean, at least five minutes had gone by. I began to question the length of my own prayers.
I just had to glance over there again. Guess what. They weren’t praying. They were all on their cell phones, texting away! I kid you not. Yes, six of them — not saying a word to each other — all playing with their cell phones while seated in a restaurant. I laughed (I’m afraid it might have been out loud too). And, if you are over the age of 40 you just might empathize with me.
John Naisbitt was right.
Naisbitt’s 1982 book, “Megatrends,” predicted the negative effect increasing technology would have on human relationships. In “Megatrends,” which was on The New York Times’ bestseller list for two years, Naisbitt described the importance of “high tech/high touch.”
That is, since technology can often disconnect us — reducing the need for face-to-face communication — Naisbitt warned that we could become isolated and suffer many consequences associated with a lack of human interactions. His solution was to ensure that we (individuals and companies) maintained “high touch” — regular, emotionally satisfying and meaningful connections to others along with our improved technology (“high touch”).
Don’t get me wrong. Technology is great. If one of my children is out late and I’m not sure exactly where that child is, a text will do just fine, thank you. But, I have also seen a co-worker in one office email the person in the next office; that person is so close he can probably hear his colleague’s fingers on the keyboard. But there is no genuine human interaction, no opportunity to engage emotion, humor or any other facet of interpersonal connection.
Has technology grown so fast that we haven’t figured out yet how to manage it? Have we perhaps not developed a social code (“manners,” for lack of a better word) to accompany the increased use of technology? If you think this perspective may be a bit overstated or exaggerated, recall that in January, a man was shot to death in a Wesley Chapel, Fla., theater following an argument over his texting during a movie.
Since “Megatrends,” Naisbitt has described Americans as being trapped in a “technology intoxication zone.” He urges us all to shut down our computers, turn off our cell phones and iPads long enough to rediscover the simplicity of a starry night, the art of conversation, and each other.
To do such a thing may feel like trying to break an addiction. Just take it one step at a time. For me and my family, we’re going to make the dinner table a “technology-free zone.”
Maybe I’ll expand that to omelet joints as well.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.