Thanks to new technological advances, the average human being now has the attention span of Charlie Sheen in a Reno brothel.
Personally, I now require a constant feed of stimulation. You might as well implant the latest Wi-Fi-equipped Apple product into my forehead and begin pumping digital data directly into my brain as if I am just another cell phone tower. As I write this, I am on an airplane going 550 miles per hour, attempting to watch a mediocre Delta movie, while also listening to a podcast on my Ipad, as I attempt to type this blog entry (hence the potentially dubious quality of this piece). My iPhone is close at hand in the event that there is any delay or interference with the various entertainment options that surround me. This plane is also Wi-Fi-equipped, and if my downloaded content is not enough to keep me completely distracted I am prepared to log on. God forbid that there is even a moment of solitude or time for reflection. I’m prepared to launch into a game of Angry Birds if for any reason my blood pressure drops into a normal range.
Earlier as I waited to board my plane, I could not stand the prospect of even a few minutes of waiting patiently at the gate. I checked my voice and emails. I did a quick check of the weather for the next week in my ten favorite cities. I then scanned several news Aps to make sure that in the fifteen minutes since I had last checked there had not been some monumental news event. I went back to my e mail to make sure that someone had not tried to contact me in the last 60 seconds. I answered an e mail from a friend that I know from experience is also connected at all times, and he replied within seconds, probably taking a much needed e mail break from making love to his wife or performing open heart surgery. I then settled on a game of digital Scrabble.
I used to spend more time reading, but now since my book is also an email and gaming device, as well as a portal to the web, it is easy to get distracted. I read a few digital pages, but then pop to another screen, somehow uncomfortable with anything that resembles deep concentration.
Last night my wife and I went to dinner at a restaurant in New York. We were seated next to an attractive young couple, and for a moment my mind drifted to the thought of young love and the wonderful experience of a first date with a beautiful woman. But then I noticed that both young lovers were oblivious to each other. Instead, their heads were buried in their laps; both of them furiously texting someone else. Few words were exchanged during their meal. In fact, the only real interaction was a comparison of smart phones, and a brief discussion of how much they paid for their communication devices. As I looked at the young woman I tried to imagine being 28 years old and preferring to look at a 3 inch screen instead of her. It all seemed particularly wasteful.
And then I glanced down a few tables. A couple was enjoying dinner with their two young sons, but instead of having a great family dinner discussion, Mom and Dad were also furiously texting, oblivious to the family moment; a “Cats In The Cradle” experience for a new generation.
Often when I am with friends or clients they will discreetly pull out their smart phone and bury it between their legs so they can check emails, stock quotes, baseball scores, porn sites, and other crucial data as we attempt to have a conversation. I used to take it personally and as a sign of rudeness, but now it all seems quite normal; just another sign of our societal ADD.
I don’t know what this all means. Perhaps in a weird way it is good news; the next step in our evolution towards being super-humans; developing multi-tasking brains that can competently do five things at once. Perhaps our grandchildren will be able to watch movies while bowling, composing music, and negotiating complex real estate contracts; all at the same time.
But it doesn’t feel like progress. It feels like digital masturbation designed to eliminate real human interaction. We do it because we can and because we can’t stop. While it is great to be able to access the massive digital collective consciousness, it comes at the expense of potentially missing an important moment with the person sitting right next to us.