"Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other." -- Ann Landers
This quote appeared on my Google home page this morning. I loved Ann Landers. I read her faithfully starting when I was about eleven years old. Eppie Lederer was a no-nonsense gal. Her down-to-earth sensibility and dry humor cut through the inflated drama of her readers’ concerns, re-prioritized their “it’s all about me!” perspectives and pointed them in the direction of common sense solutions to their problems. And I find her pronouncement on the dominant technology of her day succinct and prophetic.
I wonder what she would have thought about today’s technology? The technology that has chained any person under the age of thirty to a smart phone, iPad, laptop and/or MP3 player. Personal electronics have become as necessary as breathing to an entire generation. The obsessive dependence upon these things carries Landers’ assessment to a whole new level. Cel phone/text technology has proved that people would rather communicate with anyone rather than present company. And will slavishly employ these tools to save themselves from what must be a fate worse than death, since they will risk death to avoid it—being alone in the silent company of their own thoughts.
Human beings are complicated animals, prone to mystifying and contradictory behavior. We kill for pleasure while we prohibit “murder” on moral grounds. We enslave others while rigorously defending our own unqualified freedom. We crave community and reject it at the same time; how else to explain a pack of kids walking down the street with their noses glued to their phones instead of talking to each other? How else to explain the drive to accumulate hundreds of social media “friends,” yet not have one other person in the world who KNOWS you? I am mystified. I doubt that I’ll ever understand it.
Over the past hundred years, humans have run wild with the idea of creating technologies that will “shrink” the world. Information that once took weeks to cross the continent now travels in less than the blink of an eye. Images are instantaneous, and they are everywhere, accessible at any time. But I wonder if we’ve really done ourselves any favors. We’ve become media junkies. But I’m afraid our hunger for input has outstripped our ability to process it properly. It’s coming at us so fast that there’s no time to discern truth from lies, fact from fantasy. We select the information we choose to assimilate and construct our own individual versions of reality. As a result, the technology meant to draw the world together is actually pushing it apart.
Each of us has created our own individual sovereignty. The information we assimilate, the realities we create serve mostly to separate us from one another. Instead of 196 countries in the world, there are 7 billion. In many ways, we are infinitely farther from each other than we were before all this technology endeavored to bring us together. It’s true, and getting truer, that thing which Ann Landers identified half a century ago.
We would rather look at anything than each other.