Christmas will be quieter this year than it was a generation ago. The new, “kind of hush all over the world” will be felt in malls, airport lobbies, waiting rooms, even family gatherings.
If you need to ask why, it’s simple. People aren’t talking to each other. They can’t because they’re either on the phone or busy with a device in their hands. Next time you’re in one of these situations, just look up from your own device and see.
Everyone looks busy, and whatever it is they’re busy with, it seems very important. The audible result is the sound of one hand clapping.
Who but a team of marketing Jedis could name the means by which we now ignore each other, “the social media?”
Its proponents say it connects us, and people who think otherwise probably wear their pants up around their sternum. Opponents say it’s producing a new humanoid — the last guy on the right in the new evolutionary chart, the one with the elongated neck, chin on his chest, bug eyes, ET-ish fingers, and a pallid complexion due to a life spent in the great indoors.
The paradox of our devices and the social media is that while they permit access to so much, they’ve made us inaccessible to each other. The person managing his or her pages is wearing a sign that says, “unavailable.” It’s the kind of connectivity that keeps us hermetically sealed, but electronically engaged with someone or something somewhere else. It’s as if it were invented for people who prefer conceptual or virtual relationships to real ones.
What nerve was touched by this technology to ignite so viral a response in so short a time? Could it be that it created the illusion of celebrity? Ordinary, average, un-famous me now has an audience. A public! And all I have to do to confirm this, is post the 1,500th photo of my cat and wait for my audience to react.
Moreover, it lowered the bar on the printed word — any thought that comes into your head, no matter how disjointed, trivial or frivolous, is now publishable. There’s no need to be grammatically correct, literate, or even sane. You’ve finally got a pulpit all your own, notwithstanding merit.
It’s certainly true that the person sitting beside you in the waiting room could be identifying a genome sequence responsible for Parkinson’s or designing a better Ebola space suit. But for the rest of us, what we do with social media mostly measures up to Marx’s definition of opium for the masses. Like TV. But this one gobbles up time that we might have used for something, replaces it with time that we use for nothing, and calls it “communicating.”
I guess catching you up on my latest symptoms or posting a picture of my lunch or inviting my whole friends list to play Candy Crush Soda Saga is communicating, sort of. More likely, I do these things to fill in the cracks of time — at the stop light, on the plane, during commercials, or when the conversation isn’t interesting enough.
And that’s where the hush comes in. Addiction to screen time is preempting conversation. This leaves a visible mark, and that new guy on the evolutionary chart is wearing it. It’s the “I dare you not to bore me” facial affect resulting from sensory overload and a virtually lived life.
Whether we lament this turn of events or send up a cheer, that ship has left the dock, and we’re all on it. Even as it sails away amid the sounds of bleeps, chimes, and ringtones, some of us onboard are puzzling over something. What about all those epic encounters? Meeting our great love? The mentors who opened doors, and the friendships that became one long conversation? How likely is that on this boat? Maybe I’ll post that question and see what my public thinks.
In the meantime, we’re pulling the plug on Christmas at our house this year. It’s check your devices at the door and we’ll see how many of the words to Winter Wonderland we can remember. If we can resurrect Miracle on 34th Street, the Grinch, and Scrooge, maybe we can dig up one more relic: conversation. Socializing, of the noisy variety. Who knows, we might even hear the sound of two hands clapping. Christmas after all, especially with kids and grandkids around, was never meant to be quiet.
Randy Spencer is a working Master Maine Guide based in Grand Lake Stream. He is the award-winning author of “Where Cool Waters Flow: Four Seasons with a Master Maine Guide,” and “Wide and Deep: Tales and Recollections from a Master Maine Fishing Guide.” His website is www.randyspencer.com.