In the past few weeks, I have thought a great deal about the increasing reliance upon mobile technology like smartphones and tablets and the corresponding decrease in the frequency, duration, and skill of interpersonal interaction. Only tonight did these reflections come together in all of their horrifying glory.
Transformed by Conversations
Earlier in the evening, I had read three articles on The Art of Manliness website: an essay on the book Fahrenheit 451, another about Louis L’Amoar and his study habits, and one more about C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the lost art of conversation. The first article talked about a dystopia where books were banned and burned, but nobody cared because they were so consumed in their technology and pop culture. The second discussed how conversations with his family whetted L’Amoar’s love of books and learning. His family encouraged him in his intellectual endeavors and served as sounding boards for the ideas and concepts he picked up in his readings.
The last article was on the remarkable friendship between two different men who were nonetheless united in their love of stories, myths, humor, and the simple life. Conversations transformed their lives, especially that of Lewis – a transformation that too few of our generation will experience because of their addiction to their smartphones and computers, and their allergy to silence and disconnection.
Interacting, Not Talking
After reading those articles, and already in a disturbed frame of mind, I was summoned to a birthday celebration on the first floor of the school where I work. Coming downstairs, I noticed a student who wiling away the time before the party began by playing League of Legends on her smartphone. On an impulse, I decided to walk around the room.
With a mounting sense of dread, I realized that, with one or two exceptions, every single person in the room was on a phone or a tablet, through which they were interacting with their classmates or coworkers. I say “interacting”, not “talking”, because most of the conversation seemed to be focused around what was in their hands. Whether games, music, or instant messenger, it was the center of their universes.
The World Envisioned by Fahrenheit 451
I saw, for an instant, the world envisioned by Fahrenheit 451, and the sight made me gasp with horror – literally; my hands involuntarily went to my mouth to cover my shock. I found myself adrift in a sea of aimless humanity, a crowd that had unknowingly severed the threads that connected them to their fellow man. They had abandoned what makes them human: community. I saw this, and my mind reeled, and my heart was devastated.
The vision reminded me of a scene from Fahrenheit 451: The hero, Guy Montag, suggests to his wife that they turn off the television in the parlor and enjoy each other’s company. She replied, “They’re my family!” She couldn’t bear to be parted from her screen long enough to even talk to her husband, let alone spend time with anyone else. Following the same trend, the students couldn’t stand a moment’s separation from their cell phones, not even to celebrate the birthdays of their friends and classmates. The abdication of any sense of community was tragic.
Our world is obsessed with its own reflection. We are a generation of Narcissuses, only we have substituted a screen for a pool of water. I am left wondering how long this circle can hold, before we collapse under the weight of our self-absorption.