Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Call Me, Tweet Me: Technological relationships shouldn’t become the norm

Published: September 28, 2012
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

Upon Steve Jobs’ death last year, I wrote about the importance of technology in our lives, and conversely, the importance of stepping back from technology and experiencing the world around us.

For the second year in a row, I didn’t attend services on Yom Kippur. Instead, I spent time with friends, setting myself up for healthy relationships in the year to come. Between Evanescence and TLC music videos, delicious matzah ball soup and cookie brownies at my roommate’s break fast, I think I accomplished that.

I also made a concentrated effort to abstain from technology—I didn’t turn everything off, but I avoided unnecessary Facebooking, excessive communication with people not in my general vicinity and catching up on new T.V. episodes. The countless YouTube videos didn’t count though, because they definitely brought us closer together.

The thoughtful people at Mobile Generation of Chicago, who have been entirely ill-equipped to replace my stolen iPhone, aided me in this quest. For three weeks, I waited for a replacement phone, complaining to everyone who would listen about the jerk who picked it up wherever I dropped it, taking it to Brighton with him and even answering my friends’ prank calls.

As it turns out, my Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go flip phone has been a blessing in disguise. I’ve been locked out of my house at 4 a.m. with no saved numbers to reach my roommates. I haven’t been in (as) constant contact with my best friend, who is a thousand miles away. When I was left alone at a Mexican restaurant table, my only entertainment was re-teaching myself Spanish from the menu. It’s been horrible.

When I was home for Rosh Hashanah, Finkelmom and I watched “The American President.” When I say watched, I mean that rather than her watching while I played on my phone with half an ear toward the television, we ate popcorn and talked about the possibility of true love in the most difficult of circumstances (POTUS and a lobbyist) and the fantasy of a president who, in the end, knows all the right things to say.

On our way to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah services, rather than play on my phone in the backseat, I had an in-depth conversation with my parents about the state of our synagogue and the future of youth in Reform Judaism.

There have definitely been moments these past few weeks when I realized how vital it is to have a phone in general—primarily when I was stranded at Wendy’s with a dead car battery—and when I realized how much I rely on my iPhone—my roommate, Elana, is definitely tired of making sure I’m awake for class.

In a class last week, we discussed technology as a marker of changes in society and an example of how luxury goods have become perceived as necessities. I disagreed with my professor, arguing that society changes as consumption changes, and while an iPhone itself isn’t necessary, it performs tasks that are necessary, like serving as a calendar, an alarm clock and basic communication.

So how can we reconcile that need for technology with our needs for human contact?

For starters, when we’re with people, technology should take a backseat. Out to dinner with a group of friends? Put all of your cell phones in the middle of the table. You don’t need to be worrying about your plans for later, and you don’t need to be looking anything up online. Remember the days when we could just sit and argue about the lyrics of songs?

When we focus on connecting with people online, we lose sight of the connections we have with the people in front of us. Yes, social networking sites like Facebook are an ideal way to maintain long-distance friendships, but spending too much time on those sites leads us to max out the number of people we can reasonably be in contact with each day. In this case, it’s certainly quality, not quantity, that should rule us.

It’s a matter of time displacement, according to St. Edward’s University communications professor Corinne Weisgerber. We are reaching our limit when it comes to technological communication, she said, citing “time displacement,” or the time we spend talking online and on our phones, instead of face-to-face interactions with the people in our lives.

So will this shift towards technological communication become the norm, like a smartphone? Or will we recognize that we’re moving in a dangerous direction?

I’m looking forward to finally getting my replacement phone, but I’ve learned valuable lessons during these past few weeks. Before we become wrapped up in the technology around us, we should be taking a step back and asking ourselves if there is anything better we could be doing to connect to the people who care about us.