As a way to continue the conversations in The Biola Hour, we've invited Sam Gassaway to blog her thoughts after each episode. This is a response to Episode 21 on Technology and Habits, found here. Feel free to interact with Sam's thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter (@sgkay47).
As I write this, I am sitting in the back of Sutherland after chapel on my laptop. I’m not actively avoiding anybody and I’m certainly not emotionally empty. In fact, I’m a little bothered.
“I used to think phones were a neutral thing,” said Arlene Pellicane, Biola Hour guest on Friday Sept. 15 and writer of the newly-published book Calm, Cool and Connected. She then went on to explain that phones may, in fact, be inherently bad because of what people have hard-wired them to do: be addicting.
I would venture to argue that all things that do not do anything to you until you touch them are neutral. Human beings ruin things, not the other way around. Do guns or people kill people? Better question: do people need guns to kill people?
Let’s bring it back, though. Pellicane brought up two interesting ideas. The first I vehemently disagreed with for a few reasons.
She insisted that—because her children did not have cell phones—if they needed to contact her, they could simply use someone else’s. My problem with this logic is the same problem I have with anti-vaxxers (parents who choose not to vaccinate their children). Many of them make similar claims: “Why would I vaccinate my child if diseases are mostly gone because of herd vaccination?”
Deep breaths. The reason diseases are fading out of our society is not so we can go back to not using life-saving vaccinations; the reason herd vaccination works is because the herd is vaccinated. I thought that was clear.
Carrying this on, the reason we live in a society where children who need to contact their parents can now do so is because they are able to have communication devices to call them. Not even a smart phone; just a communication phone that has a few numbers in it to call mom when you hurt yourself falling off your bike and can’t walk home.
‘Well I don't need to get my kid a phone because if they need to contact me they can use one of their friend’s phones’ is not good logic to try to pass on to other parents. Because if this ideology spread, none of their friends would have a phone and they would be sitting on the side of the road with scraped knees and tear-streaked faces waiting for mom to drive over to get them in a panic, unaware of what happened.
Worse: in a big city like L.A., the middle schooler without a way to contact his parents could get hit by a car or attacked by a person with no means by which to tell them.
Technology makes things like this avoidable. It makes life easier, more enjoyable. That’s the point of it. Do we have an addiction problem in our culture? Yes. Do we have a troublesome “instant gratification culture,” as Mike Ahn said? Absolutely. But we also have the means for human beings to be connected like never before. And it shouldn't be demonized.
The second idea she mentioned was a tactic for keeping your mind off of your phone. When you pick it up, ask yourself, ‘What am I doing right now?’ Once you accomplish your task, put the phone down again.
I largely agree with this one. However, if I only ever looked at the item I use to communicate with people when I needed it, people would not be able to contact me. They would only hear from me when I needed something.
Final thoughts: by denying the next generation this type of technical knowledge, parents run the risk of raising kids who 1) have a superiority complex about the way they were raised, or 2) will be vastly unprepared to relate to and work with peers in the future.
All this to say, all things should be used in moderation. Phones don’t make people emotionally empty. People seek emotional emptiness and have found it in different forums since the beginning of time. People have been avoiding other people since there were walls to hide behind. We have been a distraction-prone species since we saw the fruit was good and took a bite.
Cell phones haven’t changed that. They’ve just become the new scapegoats.