Picture a glorious living room on Christmas Day. Magnificent high ceiling, cozy fire, exquisite tree, vast windows overlooking thick woods. Now imagine it filled with various members of an extended, albeit cattywhumpus, family, many of whom have not seen each other for a year or more.
Now imagine that any conversation taking place is a tossed-off afterthought; the primary occupation of nearly all inhabitants is cell phone manipulation.
Now, to me, talking on or playing with a phone while in the presence of another person is rude beyond imagination. To be fair, my parents were both from Europe and very opinionated on this subject, consequently I have an old-fashioned sense of good-manners, propriety, and behavior predicated on respect for self and others. I am no longer surprised to watch civility slip into the mist where it can comfortably join the dodo. So, while I find the incivility appalling, I am not surprised by it.
What does surprise me is the almost thundering irony. This astonishing device – no longer anything resembling a phone but rather a palm-sized communications network – has apparently robbed us of our ability to simply be – to enjoy the presence of another – savoring stillness, silence, and calm – to listen, and then, having listened and considered – to respond thoughtfully and politely.
In a word, it seems as though our need to constantly fetch and transmit information has profoundly damaged if not destroyed our ability to converse. (Once again, these people are close relatives and have not seen each other for a long time; Christmas in this case is more than a pseudo-religious shindig, it is an important opportunity to revitalize old bonds and forge new ones.)
When I go into an AA meeting the chairman reminds all of us that cell phones must be turned off. The reason is simple, what we are doing is a matter of life and death and requires absolute concentration. (I will again quote Taz Mopula who said, “Multi-tasking is the art of doing many things badly at the same time.”)
Our obsession with gadgets has caused us to forget what many of us never went to the trouble of learning in the first place, that is – the most essential element of conversation is listening and if you are thinking about what you will say next after the other person finally shuts up you’re not listening, you’re treading water.
To simply witness the life of a loved one, to be with them, is a priceless gift that demands elimination of ego, however briefly. Hard to do that with a horrid monster in your pocket, constantly demanding attention.
Is there anybody left who still believes these little machines serve us, or is it now clear to all we serve them?