While having breakfast in a restaurant recently, I saw a couple sitting across from each other. Each was reading a newspaper. It made me think how this particular scene, a couple reading the morning news instead of chatting or connecting, would appear benign to most onlookers and not cause them to fret that the couple were reading and not connecting through conversation.
But if they were staring at their phones? I imagine it would get some people’s knickers in a knot.
If there are two camps – those who think Iphones and the like are making us asocial, and those who think we should loosen up a little and suspend judgment that new technologies are ruining social relations and making us disconnected – I fall into the latter.
I’m suspicious of negative warnings about new technologies and all the bemoaning about how society is abandoning the more wholesome media we grew up with. After all, it too was considered harmful when first introduced.
Socrates famously warned against writing because it would make us forgetful. The French statesman Malesherbes warned against getting news from the printed page because it socially isolated readers and detracted from the uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit. The writer Douglas Adams observes that technology that existed when we were born seems normal, anything developed before we turn 35 is exciting, and whatever comes after is treated with suspicion.
I’m not saying all new technologies are harmless and there is no discussion to be had about how they affect us. It’s just I’m reluctant to pathologize behaviour which is perfectly normal in today’s life. I’m more inclined to follow this advice recently posted on Tumblr:
Do not let adults steal this generation from you. Relish in selfies. Snapchat pictures of coffee to your friends. Huddle around an iPhone to watch Vines. Shamelessly love this generation’s commodities, like how our parents loved their commodities, like disco or Hammer Pants or whatever else. Do not let angry adults take away your chance to experience the uniqueness of right now.