My solitude was broken by two girls, deep in conversation, who approached from behind and sat down on the grass about ten feet to my left. I stared hard at my peanut butter sandwich, trying to not eavesdrop, but their stream of chatter intrigued me. They interrupted each other frequently, paused at the same awkward moments, and responded to each other's statements as if neither one heard what the other said. Confused, I stole a glance at them out of the corner of my eye. I could tell that they were college students by their style of dress and the heavy backpacks sinking into the grass beside them. Their body language and proximity also indicated that they were friends. Instead of talking to each other, however, each one was having a separate dialogue on her cell phone.
As I consider this peculiar scene, this morning's bleary-eyed lecturer again intruded into my thoughts. His point in the symposium was that, aside from the disastrous effects of emails and chatting on the spelling, grammar, and punctuation of the English language, these modern conveniences also considerably affect our personal lives. Before the advent of electronic mail, people wrote letters. Although writing out words by hand posed an inconvenience, it also conferred certain important advantages. The writer had time to think about his message, about how he could best phrase it in order to help his reader understand him, about how he could convey his emotions without the use of dancing and flashing smiley face icons. When he finished his letter, he had created a permanent work of art to which a hurriedly typed email or abbreviated chat room conversation could never compare. The temporary, impersonal nature of computers, Professor Spectacles concluded, is gradually rendering our lives equally temporary and impersonal.
And what about cell phones? I thought. I have attended classes where students, instead of turning off their cell phones for the duration of the lecture, leave the classroom to take calls without the slightest hint of embarrassment. I have sat in movie theathers and ground my teeth in frustration at the person behind me who can't wait until the movie is over to give his colleague a scene-by-scene replay. And then I watched each girl next to me spend her lunch hour talking to someone else instead of her friend. Like the rest of the world, these two pay a significant price for the benefits of convenience and the added safety of being in constant contact with the world. When they have a cell phone, they are never alone, but then again, they are never alone.
They may not recognize it, but those girls, like most of us, could use a moment of solitude. Cell phones make it so easy to reach out and touch someone that they have us confused into thinking that being alone is the same thing as being lonely. It's all right to disconnect from the world every once in a while; in fact, I feel certain that our sanity and identity as humans necessitates it. And I'm starting to think that maybe the Whimsical Professor ranting about his "technological opiates" is not so romantic after all.
Not watching snl