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Hang Up and Connect (1846)

May 6 issue editorial on the need for face-to-face connections in a tech-savvy world. Blessed John Paul II, who was beatified May 1, 2011, offers a wonderful example on being fully present to others.

05/01/2012 Comment
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In some ways, it’s an update of the scene from years past, where a wife’s words at breakfast didn’t seem to be making an impression on her husband, who had his nose in the morning paper.

But we see far too many examples today of people with their “noses buried” in their smartphones or iPads when they might normally be expected to be interacting with people right next to them.

Families eat dinner together, but rather than carry on a robust conversation, spouses and siblings alternate between taking a bite and checking text messages.

A multitasking worker suddenly realizes that his phone partner asked him a question — but he wasn’t paying attention.

In a recent New York Times article, MIT professor Sherry Turkle said her students told her of a new skill among the younger set: maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else. “It’s hard,” Turkle reports, “but it can be done.”

Turkle regrets how society is losing the art of conversation, even while it has achieved near-universal “connectivity.”

She quotes a texting-reliant 16-year-old who says, “Someday, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

It’s sad, but consider how many of our practices have changed and are changing:  Co-workers email rather than speak face-to-face, even if they sit right next to each other. In our personal lives, rather than a birthday card or even a phone call, a quick post of “Happy Birthday!” on someone’s Facebook wall often suffices. Sympathy cards are even being supplanted by emailed condolences.

Many carry their devices around everywhere so they have “something to do” when they’re bored at a gathering of people they seem to have nothing in common with — or need something to fill free time.

Now, most people don’t excuse themselves from the group they’re with to check their wireless devices.

Pope Benedict XVI issued a reflection in January about the use of social media and how human beings desperately need time to cherish silence and contemplation — which are essential for communication.

The pontificate of Pope John Paul II offered an example of how we are to be fully present to one another. Many people who met John Paul in person recalled the power of his response, which made each man or woman feel as if he or she were the only person in the world to him. As busy as a pope can be, as much as his many duties and responsibilities and concerns weighed him down, he approached each person he met as a beloved son or daughter of God, fully deserving of his complete and undivided attention.

Digital devices can be useful, but we must never forget that they are there to serve humanity — and not to tempt us from withdrawing from those before us.


 

Filed under communication, digital devices, new media, pope john paul ii