I got drug into a cell phone store the other day by a teenage daughter hell bent on “an upgrade.” I equate the experience to waterboarding, a type of torture tactic that should be outlawed.
Don’t get me wrong, the customer service in this store was exceptionally good. A young saleswoman expertly and passionately discussed the ins and outs of screen sizes and texting habits with a colorfully haired twenty-something and her pal. She made the sale.
Meanwhile the professional young man who was assisting my daughter and I smartly tried to divert my growing irritation during a lull in our transaction — due to, of all things, a glitch with their credit card processing technology — by changing the channel on the large TV mounted next to the counter. It was tuned to some ridiculous MTV program about the nightlife scene in Florida that was further eroding my faith in humanity. The ESPN talking heads didn’t help my mood.
As an aside, as I never have subscribed to the service myself, I did note with mild curiosity that times must be getting tough for the Cable TV industry. Instead of an actual commercial, there were interludes in the programming in which ESPN just displayed their logo and a message reading, “This is a commercial break.” In the media business we call that a “House Ad,” and we run them when there is no paying customer actually wanting to advertise in that space. Not good.
So, back in the store, it wasn’t that we were being treated unprofessionally, it’s just that I’d rather shop for a tetanus shot than a smartphone. And I find health insurance plans — despite an itty-bitty premium bump of about 200 percent for the Dickey family in 2018 — less imprisoning than cell phone ones.
Alas, I apologize. I didn’t want to write another anti-technology rant.
What I do want to talk about is what could be a long overdue, in my opinion, pendulum swing coming. Rather than mindlessly gobbling up every time- and attention-sucking contrivance Silicon Valley tosses at us, there are signs that humanity is waking up to the realization that just because certain technologies exist, doesn’t mean they’re good for us or that we have to use them.
Bloomberg View tech journalist Shira Ovide recently opined that “the rethinking of technology’s great promise is only beginning.” Among many other examples, she cites an NPR story that caught my eye too: Schools are beginning to teach teens how to interact with each other IRL (“in real life”), coaching them on face-to-face interaction — like asking someone out on a date, for example.
I’ve been a supporter of this kind of curriculum for years, joking often that I’d buy the pack of cigs and case of beer if my kids and their friends would only get together and talk to each other, argue with each other, be bored together and, God forbid, laugh and have a good time together … rather than gathering only to portal themselves into some isolating virtual reality through the glare of their smartphones.
More sobering, writer Jean M. Twenge’s new book speaks to being on the brink of the “worst mental health crisis in decades” for iGen kids who are growing up “less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood.”
I realize, coming from a “media guy” like myself, this critique is in some ways akin to the pot calling the kettle black. After all, your hometown newspaper was an early adopter of the world wide web nearly 20 years ago and we continue to use social media channels as a means of sharing local news items. But here’s one thing we are not doing: We’re not giving up on print.
Print media is different than social media. I won’t say it’s better, and I’m out of space here to detail all of the ways it’s different. But I do believe it’s valuable, and if I have anything to say about it, it’s not going away.
So I guess all of this is an attempt at explaining why walking into that cell phone store triggered a PTSD-like response from me. While my kids see wonder and fancy and excitement, I see danger. (OK, I see some of the good stuff too; I do, after all, own one of the darned things.)
Still, walking out several hundred dollars later, I felt like I had lost the battle. But I am not done fighting this war.