I grew up in the era of Dick Tracy. I spent every Sunday morning reading the comics out of the paper, and Dick Tracy and his two-way wrist radio–and later wrist TV–were always fascinating to me. (Almost as much as the anti-magnetic spaceship that some of the characters used to go to the moon, but that’s another story.)
Flash forward half a million years, and I am teaching university, surrounded by students who don’t wear wrist watches, don’t use email, and are rapidly turning into creatures that I don’t even recognize. Don’t get me wrong; I am not a luddite. I have my iPad and my iPhone. But I am constantly annoyed that my wife insists that I constantly have my phone with me at every waking moment, where a dozen years ago we got along just fine without them. My hassle is that my phone drops down into my pocket and I can’t get it out when it rings. And having worn it on my belt before and had it either snag on things or fall off, I refuse to go down that road again.
Enter Sony and Samsung’s new invention–the wrist phone. In essence, they are taking a lesson from Dick Tracy, and making it possible for me to carry my cell on my wrist. The phone looks just like a watch too. It has a bunch of other features as well, but I am not as concerned about that. I just want to oblige my wife and carry my phone without the danger of leaving it somewhere or getting it stuck in my pocket. I am definitely looking into this gadget.
But that brings up a larger issue. My students grew up in an era when electronic devices–computers, phones, tablets, etc.–are a “necessary” part of life. I brought up the idea in my Interpersonal Communication class of going camping all by yourself for a weekend with no phone, radio, or other device. You should have heard the uproar. “That’s not safe!” at least one of them said. My response was, “What did people do before cell phones?”
And that is a question that doesn’t come up enough. We have bought into this idea that we should be accessible at all times, day or night, but it’s only been in the last decade that that’s really been possible. Why is it then so necessary? One of the reasons why I bring up the camping alone idea is simply the fact that I see many–if not almost all–of my students very uncomfortable with the concept of silence. They need–or think they need–a steady buzz of entertainment around them at all times. Even Facebook has drawn people into that pit. Without silence, there is no opportunity for contemplation. And without contemplation, how deep is your thinking going to be?
And sometimes I feel that people don’t want to think. I have a tendency to turn the TV on at home just for noise, even if I am not interested in watching it. I used to be one of those students who studied while the TV is on. Now I find that I can’t really concentrate with other people’s voices in the background. White noise is good, but it usually has to be classical music.
I know. I am showing my age. But because I am a professor as well as a writer, I have a vested interest in being able to come up with an original thought now and then. And if my thinking is muddled by electronic noise, that’s not likely to happen.
How about you?