Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod


There’s been lots of news recently about how we communicate with one another, or how technology is affecting how and where and from whom we obtain information. The headlines are almost universally negative. Have you noticed that, too? My good friend Brian Tucker at Crains Cleveland Business bemoans the fact that digital sources, specifically sources that conform to the readers’ interests, are burying traditional published media. Three social networking sites were collateral damage in a cyber-attack aimed at an economist from Ukraine; a 24 hour blackout of Twitter seems to have rendered 10 million people mute. A woman was so depressed without her Blackberry during a month-long “vacation” from her device that the reunion was deemed worthy of a front page article in USA Today. The Western world is wireless and webbed, and we’re all reaching out and being reached here, there, and everywhere.

The White family is due for cell phone upgrades this Fall and my wife and kids are all excited about the prospect of new and better technology. They are really enjoying the prospect of prospecting for that newest, latest, bestest phone. Me? Not so much. It seems as though all of the new stuff on the new phones will simply allow me to be available to more people more of the time; if I am ABLE to text and tweet and Facebook there’s a greater likelihood that someone will EXPECT me to do so RIGHT NOW. I’m pretty sure that’s not such a great thing.

The most powerful product in the social history of man might be the cell phone. Think about it. Totally connected at all times, with ever-expanding connectivity tools. The cell phone has brought about a true paradigm shift in First World human communication. It is the ultimate expression of the ability to reach farther and farther to contact and connect. The “Social Media Revolution” didn’t really explode until Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the revolutionary venues were tied to a cell phone.

And therein lies the problem. It is that most remote connection that has overwhelmed connecting.

For those of you over that age of 35 or so, remember what the phone was like in your youth? It didn’t ring too very much, did it? And each ring was important because… well… it was. No trivial phone calls from relatives or marketing calls or pollsters calling to query about the mundane. If you were home and the phone rang you jumped for it, an instinct that became a part of the Western social DNA.

How about the caller? What was their experience like? No call-waiting to ensure that each call would be answered. No answering machines or voicemail. No “for English press 1.” You got busy signals! If the phone kept ringing you didn’t have to wonder if someone saw your number on caller ID and said “no way”– you knew they weren’t home (or they were on the can–no one had phones in the bathroom then!)

Now? Well, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. That unlimited ability to connect at any time has become an OBLIGATION to be connected. Right NOW. Always. Cell phone as priority 1. You’ve seen it; heck, you’ve DONE it. You’re having a conversation with someone, right there in front of you, someone you can literally reach out and touch–you know, with your hand. Their cell phone rings or buzzes or sings and without any conscious thought out comes the phone and they answer it. Or they tap out a text. Right in front of you, mid-sentence. Heck, in the middle of a hug you can feel them reaching for it. Even call-waiting…as much as my Dad bemoans the loss of the courtesies of a bygone era he still clicks me out, puts me on hold, because “someone’s on the other line!” And I am supposed to get excited about a new phone that will make all of this EASIER?!

I propose that there is a Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: SPACE is conserved, just like energy. The space that has been removed between each end of a cellphone/technology-driven connection is not destroyed, it is simply placed between the two physical bodies in the interrupted personal connection. Whether it’s a call, a text, or a tweet, the cellphone is the elephant in the room, the elephant right between two people who are close enough to one another to shake hands.

Connected? Sure we are. But we were pretty connected in days gone by, just in a different way. We lived with our parents. Our grandparents lived upstairs. Our aunts and our uncles lived with our cousins around the corner or on the other end of town. The coolest connection was two cans attached by a string stretched between your bedroom window and your best friend’s window next door. The elephant in the room was some family story that everyone already knew that was so trivial that even USA Today would bury it on page 12.

So, what to do? How do we utilize all of this new stuff in order to INCREASE our contacts and connections without increasing the distance between us when we are together in the same room? I thinkĀ  I will become an elephant tamer. I’ll start with my own elephant because I am just as guilty as most others, and I think I might start by buying a smaller elephant, a new cellphone that does mostly nothing but make phone calls. I’ll help those in my charge (the White progeny) by pointing out the choices that they are making, the message they are sending when they choose the elephant over that someone right there. I’ll continue to make people uncomfortable in my office when they answer the elephant during an exam (people actually do that–answer the phone when I’m in the middle of examining them!). Heck, I’ll probably tease them when they twitch, that visible effort necessary to stop themselves from answering that silly ringtone they bought for 5 bucks–I think of that as petting your elephant when you can’t talk to it.

Heck, I might even start leaving MY elephant at home. Hmm…just thinking about that makes meĀ  feel a little lighter.

10 Responses to “Connected?”

  1. August 15th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    anne hurst says:

    i so totally agree with you. and i promise i will never twitch or pick up my phone in the examining room of any of my doctors.

  2. August 15th, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Dwayne says:

    If people just used the tools for their intended purposes, it might be different. But it’s America, land of excess, land of “take it to the next level”, land of “I want more.” It’s frustrating indeed. Saw a woman at the bank teller window, on the phone and also instructing the teller what to do. She was probably in her 50’s or 60’s..old enough to know better. GET OFF THE PHONE. I try to do my best, and use the phone was needed. I don’t call people that much, I text a bit, but I do really use it to check twitter, and check some other sites to see “what’s going on.” A lot of what I do involves social media, it’s interesting to see how people communicate, and what tools they use, and the differences between generations (my earlier example aside). Anyway, I do agree, and I think more people need to step back, reduce and simplify.

  3. August 15th, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    Agree on all points Dwayne! Thanks for reading.

  4. August 16th, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Bill says:

    I agree somewhat with this. I do not agree with badgering and fun making directed at people with whom you interact with. You never know what is occurring ‘in their shoes’ at the time of a phone call or text. But that’s just me.
    My favorite part of this blog is the irony that someone who keeps a blog AND a Twitter account is commenting and ridiculing those very means of communication. Now that’s rich.

  5. August 16th, 2009 at 9:22 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Ah, Bill, the irony does not escape me, rest assured! The difference, though, is that I don’t answer my cell phone when in conversation with someone right in front of me. I turn it off when I am in a meeting or if I have my own doctor’s appointment. Badger? I dunno, Bill. When a child is visiting our house as a guest of one or my kids, and he pulls out his cell phone to respond to a text between mouthfuls, and I call him on it, is that badgering? If so, guilty as charged ;=)

    I write in my blog when I am alone, when I have no social, family, or professional obligations. In the end it’s healthier than drinking alone, eh?

  6. August 16th, 2009 at 9:28 am

    darrellwhite says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Bill. The irony does not escape me! The difference, I think, is that I don’t answer my cell phone when in the midst of a conversation. I turn it off if I have meeting or my own doctor’s appointment. I neither Tweet nor Facebook from a phone on the hoof, out in the world.

    Badger? I dunno. If a child is a guest of one of my kids for dinner and he takes out his phone to respond to a text in between mouthfuls and I call him on it, is that badgering? If so, guilty as charged ;=)

    I write in my blog as a creative outlet when I am alone, when I do not have family, professional, or social obligations. In the end it’s healthier than drinking alone, eh?

  7. August 17th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Marie says:

    Right on Darrell! This is a huge pet peeve of mine!

  8. August 18th, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Buck Buckner says:

    Have you found any of the younger generation(s) who agree with you? My PDA is a pocket calendar with a pen. I often leave my cell phone at home which leaves my associates (mostly younger pilots) incredulous that I could do such a thing. BTW, read your post today and I find myself in the same plateau boat you mentioned. I am just starting a MedX regimen to strengthen my lower back, which is certainly a limiting factor in almost every aspect of my CF efforts, but most certainly in DL/BS/FS/oly lifts. Good luck with CFSB II. Any change of heart vis a vis golf?

  9. August 19th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    darrellwhite says:

    Buck, Lovely Daughter just learned this lesson. Cut off from her cell phone at the Dude Ranch she realized that there was NO DRAMA in her life without the textx/FB/Twitter, etc. We are trying to extend that lesson to the coming school year. Leave your phone off or in your room or just don’t look unless it’s a real urgency. We’ll see–they’re addictive little things.

    No golf until I can take 8-10 weeks for rehab from surgery = no golf ;=(

  10. August 19th, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Buck Buckner says:

    Your surgery patients appreciate your devotion to duty. Good luck this school year to Lovely Daughter. Let me know when you plan a Denver trip so we can do some CF bonding.

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