Human interaction in an electronic age
by Roger Hines
Columnist
August 17, 2013 09:33 PM | 937 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, I sat in the waiting room of a car dealership. It wasn’t the main waiting room where the obligatory television was blaring, but in a much smaller one where customers could supposedly attend to needs other than their television addiction.

I emphasize supposedly. In the smaller room I was alone with my local newspaper for about 10 minutes. Midway through one of my favorite, though occasionally prodigal columnists, Kathleen Parker, I was interrupted by a young man of 30 or so who strode in talking to himself.

That is, I thought he was talking to himself until I saw wires strung from his ears to a phone. He was quite loud. There were only three seats in the small room, two joined to each other against the wall, one of which I was occupying, and the third at a desk. Guess which one the young man chose.

As engaging as Parker was, extolling the joys of motherhood in this non-prodigal column, it was difficult to follow her because of the young man’s noisy conversation.

“Motherhood is the joy that passeth all understanding,” wrote Parker.

“Why don’t you go ahead and fire him?” barked my seatmate.

“As with love, you can’t explain motherhood to those who haven’t experienced it,” wrote Parker.

“I own this company and I expect you to fire people that are incompetent,” yelled Seatmate.

As rude as the young man was to carry on his business while his elbow touched mine, I wasn’t about to say anything. I was too intrigued by what I was learning about him. My thought was to get to know the young entrepreneur if he ever managed to shut his trap. I can learn from anybody, even immature, rude people.

As for Kathleen Parker, I was still stuck on her use of the word “pass-eth,” instead of “passes.” I had a hunch that that South Carolina girl — she has called herself that — knew King James Bible English.

Anyhow, my simultaneous effort to enjoy Parker and to listen to the young man reminded me of how technology is changing us and how, unless parents and institutions set some rules, it will continue to do so, and not always for the better.

It also made me recall that a few years ago in line at the credit union, a successful-looking middle-aged gentleman standing smack in front of me spoke these exact words into his cellphone: “Carol, we’ve sent you up there to Carson-Newman and all you’ve done is play around.” Up and down the line eyes rolled, even those of people much younger than the distraught tuition-paying dad.

I’ve often wondered how many relationships, or potential ones, have been aborted because a guy answered his phone in a restaurant and for five minutes ignored the young lady sitting across the table. Would serve the careless guy right if she absconded.

This brings to mind a remark by a famous man who was not against technology, Albert Einstein: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction, and the world will have a generation of idiots.”

“The day that technology will surpass our human interaction.” The very words indicate that Einstein was as gifted with foresight as he was knowledge of quantum physics.

More often than not, one who raises such thoughts as these about technology is considered a throwback, but I’m not against technology. Technology is like money. Those who knock it have never been without it. Technology excites me beyond measure, yet I know that parents, schools and colleges are setting few guidelines or rules for its use and are hastening Einstein’s fears into reality.

For instance, allowing a speech student to video a speech at home or in the dorm and email it to a professor is one example of the misuse I have in mind. Training in public speaking without an audience? Perhaps having the speech student’s best friend or dog sitting on the couch is enough audience to satisfy the professor.

My fundamental concern is that we are giving up on the wisdom of the ages, on solitude, and on the power of touch, all for the convenience of the Web. Today it is more unthinkable to walk three blocks down the street and talk to a neighbor than it once was to talk to someone across the ocean through a wire.

By the way, the young man I sat by was not 30; he was 27. Before I could say anything to him, he jerked out his ear plugs and said, “I’m sorry. I wish they’d never invented cellphones.”

Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator
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