Repairing a digital disconnect

Published 11:12 am Thursday, May 19, 2016

In an alternate universe, the world has been completely overtaken by technology.

The government watches your every move through these devices. You can’t eat, do your job or interact with others without them.

Every word you say is recorded, reviewed, monitored and, if you break the rules, punishable. As such, human connection is a rarity. Talking to other people is a challenge, and touching another person by choice is completely unfathomable.

This premise comes from George Orwell’s “1984,” which I’ve read a handful of times in the last 10 years. Each time I read it I get a little more nervous about the growing number of parallels between the state of our society and the dystopian fantasy.

When I first read the book, texting was a new phase just beginning to grow in popularity. We clacked away at our Motorola Razors using T-9 texting, careful to keep an eye on how many messages we sent in a month so our parents’ bill didn’t skyrocket.

Fast-forward 10 years, and I’m the first to admit that I probably send more texts and emails in a day from my smartphone than I did in an entire month back then. I know I’m not alone.

Face-to-face conversation has been replaced with texting and tweeting. It’s convenient, and it takes away the strain of having to interact socially. You don’t have to control the emotions on your face or be mindful of body language when you’re interacting on Twitter and Facebook. You don’t have to leave the couch to send a text message. Heck, you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas to handle business in an email.

This isn’t a new observation I’m making. Sociologists have been ranting about the issue since before I even had a cell phone, but that lost human interaction is beginning to trickle into other places in our lives.

About once a month I go to Olive Garden for lunch with my mom. While there are still servers who bring me my food, I’m asked to order and pay on a computer.

For many years I’ve opted to use the self-checkout at Walmart and Meijer because being my own cashier is quicker than waiting for a cashier to do it.

Today on the radio I heard that due to the rising minimum wage, Wendy’s restaurants all across the country will soon have the option to replace clerks with computers. You would order your food from a machine.

Maybe I’m an anomaly, but when I go out to eat — even to eat fast food — part of the reason is because of the human interaction. I’m one of those people who leaves notes for good waitresses on my bill to thank them for their kindness. I even enjoy the angsty teenager who begrudgingly hands me my spicy chicken nuggets.

Despite all the other factors of rising costs and convenience, it is imperative that our society be more mindful of the value of people. This is a fine line to walk, because valuable people deserve to be paid wages that pay the bills, but if that minimum standard is so high that it is more affordable (and convenient) to replace people with machines, we aren’t lauding them at all; we’re making them obsolete.

Unlike in “1984,” we still have control of our behavior. Nobody is forcing us to use technology; it has just become habit.

So here’s my challenge: Every night, try and take one waking hour to be completely unplugged. Go for a walk. Play an instrument. Read a book! When you’re out with friends and family, put your phones in the middle of the table. The first to touch their phone picks up the next round of drinks, the bill, etc.

Show the people around you they are valuable, and see how far that courtesy goes.


Ambrosia Neldon is the managing editor at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7713, or by email at