The Los Angeles Times recently reported on cell phone use in Korea that revealed remarkable information about where our digital culture may be heading. They discovered Korean teenagers make up to 90 cell phone calls a day, and social scientists are now beginning to correlate high cell use with rising rates of depression. For some time, I’ve noticed that many young people value their digital life as much (if not more) than their real life. A friend of my daughter sent 2,500 text messages last month, (that’s more than 84 per day).
Add that to another recent study released by the Knight Ridder news service that Americans are reporting fewer and fewer close friends. In 1985, pollsters noted that the average person reported having three close friends, but today, it’s only two. And the number who say they have no one to discuss important matters with has doubled to one in four. The social implications are significant, from no friends to visit people in the hospital, weakened bonds during crisis, fewer watchdogs to deter neighborhood crime, and a lack of community.
Technology has brought wonderful changes into our lives. Through computers, cell phones, and more, it’s made a dramatic difference in our business and personal lives. But at the same time, we need to be aware of how the digital universe is impacting our relationships. Thanks to the news media, we’re already aware of online predators who directly target minors for sex, Internet scams that prey on seniors, and the explosion of online pornography.
But one my biggest concerns is how it effects our behavior.
I used to enjoy the radio or CD player when driving, but now I feel compelled to do business on my cell phone whenever I’m behind the wheel. Likewise, in London recently, I met businessmen who couldn’t even use the toilet without checking their e-mail (at the same time!).
So what’s to be done? Are we destined to live our lives in isolation? Although the situation is certainly getting worse, here’s what we can do to get our lives back:
First, take a media fast. I love movies, television, and the Internet, but from time to time it’s important to take a break. When you get that urge to check your e-mail during a funeral or text message the person in the next cubicle, it might be time for a media fast. Take a day or two off and see what happens. Recently, an e-mail glitch deleted about 30 messages in my inbox. I was horrified, but guess what? Nothing happened. I didn’t lose any clients, no projects missed a deadline, and no one else even noticed. Learn to turn it off!
Second, be more aggressive about developing personal relationships. In a world where few people have close friends, expand your community and get to know people. Enlarge your network of really close friends.
Third, encourage community building. Through your neighborhood, business, or local religious community spend time developing “community.” Be proactive in creating more “face to face” activities that encourage friendships and develop deeper relationships among friends and associates to accomplish the greater good. Remember that it was community relationships, not political action committees or non-profits that created the world greatest movements for civil rights, education, humanitarian work, and more.
Where are we as a culture going if our digital life replaces our real life? The lure of technology means that we must be active in developing personal relationships. Remember - mass media is a wonderful tool, but ultimately, real community happens face to face.
Phil Cooke is a television producer and media consultant based in Santa Monica, California. Find out more at philcooke.com.
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