Connected, Yes, But Hermetically Sealed

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    Aug 27, 2008 1:03 AM GMT
    An article I read in the New York Times. Written by Ben Stein.
    Enjoy.

    "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains," said Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
    What would Rousseau have made of the modern-day calls and chains with which we shackle ourselves? They are not made of steel or iron, but of silicon and plastic and digits and electrons and waves zooming through the air. These are the chains of all kinds of devices, like the BlackBerry, the iPhone and the Voyager. These are the chains with which we have bound ourselves, losing much of our solitude and our ability to see the world around and inside us.
    Consider an airplane flight. We are soaring across the country. We listen to music. We read books and newspapers. We sleep and dream. If you are like me, you look at the cloud formations and listen to Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major. Maybe you talk to your neighbors.
    You are free to think and to reflect on existence and on your own small role in it. You are free to have long thoughts and memories of high school and college and the first time you met your future spouse.
    Then, the airplane lands. Cellphones and P.D.A.'s snap into action. Long rows of lights light up on tiny little screens. These are people we absolutely have to talk to. Voice messages pour in, telling of children who got speeding tickets, of margin calls, of jobs offered and lost. The bonds of obligation, like handcuffs, are clapped back onto our wrists, and we shuffle off to the servitude of our jobs and our mundane tasks. A circuit is completed: the passengers who were human beings a few moments earlier become part of an immense, all-engulfing machine of communication and control. Human flesh and spirit become plastic and electronic machinery.
    What if we didn't have cellphones or P.D.A.'s? We would still have duties and families and bosses, but they would not be at our heels, yipping at us constantly, barking at us to do this or that or worry about this or that. We would have some moat of time and space around ourselves. Not now.
    Consider another example: Walk down the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan, between Central Park South and 45th Street. Almost every man and woman is on the phone or scanning the screen of a BlackBerry. No one looks at anyone else (except me; I stare openly and voraciously). It is as if each person were in a cocoon of electrons and self-obsession and obligation. Each of these people might as well be wearing a yoke around his neck.
    There is no community here- or on the streets of any other city. Beverly Hills, my home, is far worse. There, people are hermetically sealed off from one another, not taking in the air or the stupendous buildings or the sky or just the miracle of confronting the earth as it is.
    Or consider our beloved young people. I see them in Beverly Hills, in Malibu, among magnificent homes, next to the mighty Pacific, walking along avenues of mansions and twoering palm trees. They walk in rows of three, each on a cellphone, not even talking to the people next to her.
    I keep thinking of my happiest moments of youth, walking along Sligo Creek Parkway in Sliver Spring, Md., coming home from Parkside Elementary School (long ago closed) or along Dale Drive, coming home from Montgomery Blair High School. I could smell the leaves burning in the late fall, think the long thoughts that young people are supposed to have, and dream of my adult life, when I would have the love of a great woman and a Corvette. Those were moments of power.
    Now, there is no thought or reverie. There is nothing but gossip and making plans to shop or watch television. The cellphone and the P.D.A. have basically replaced thought. When I was a young White House Speech writer, we communed with one another and otherwise read and wrote quietly in our offices. We had mental space. No more.
    I spent much of the summer in my beloved Sandpoint, Idaho, far north in the Panhandle, over-looking Lake Pend Oreille. People there still have some freedom of thought. They walk along the streets without phones. They ride their boats and water-ski or fish without any talking over the airwaves. They talk to one another. They look up at the sky. Childeren line up to swing on a rope over Sand Creek and then drop into the creek. Business people walk to their appointments, greeting the people they see, not talking to a small plasitic box. In other words, they are connected to the glorious Bonner County sky and waster and land, and, most of all, connected to their own ruminations.

    What would we do if cellphones and P.D.A.'s disappeared? We would be forced to think again. We would have to confront reality. My own life is spent mostly with men and women of business. I have been at this for a long time now, and what I have seen of the loss of solitude and dignity is terrifying among those who travel and work, or even
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    Aug 27, 2008 1:05 AM GMT
    who stay still and work. They are slaves to connectedness. Their work has become their indentured servitude. Their children and families are bound to the same devices, too.
    But try a day without that invasion of your privacy. Or a week. You will be shocked at what you discover. It's called LIFE. It's called nature. It's called getting to know yourself. I have a close friend who is in prison. He used to be imprisoned by his P.D.A. He has many stories, but the most haunting one is about how, without his phone, without his P.D.A., he has come to know, for the first time, who he is.
    Will the rest of us ever get the chance? Will we ever throw away the chains that go "ping" in our pocket? Or have we irrevocably become machines ourselves?

    written by Ben Stein
    Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist.
    E-mail: ebiz@nytimes.com

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    Aug 27, 2008 1:12 AM GMT
    Good article.
  • VinBaltimore

    Posts: 239

    Aug 27, 2008 1:29 AM GMT
    Funny you mention that part about airplanes now. I was on a flight from Miami back to Baltimore last night. I got to wondering why I find airplane travel so relaxing. I think this is a big part of it.

    True I love my I-pod and cell phone as much as the next guy, but I am sometime a tad nastalgic for the time when none of had cell phone and I could just wonder off, completely unable to be reached.

    Email at the office is the worst. I get, and am just as guilty of this as anyone, emails from people who I can literally see from my desk. Instead of talking we just shoot emails back and forth across the room. So bad, we actually have No Email Days every once in a while.

    I also try to get up and go talk to people every once in a while instead of sending the email. I also never wear my I-pod at work, but a lot of people do.
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    Aug 27, 2008 1:29 AM GMT
    I'm a sucker with an iPhone, I have internet access everywhere, I collect email, sms, message bank (voice mail) phone calls and anything else... with a tap of the screen I can let people know exactly where I am..

    But, I like turning off my phone at the end of the day, I stop using the internet after a while, I relax and read or chat to mates, when I go out with friends we have a rule of no phones... we all enjoy it.

    So yeah lots of people are a little obsessed with there phones, but, you can choose not to be.
  • VinBaltimore

    Posts: 239

    Aug 27, 2008 2:00 AM GMT
    muchmorethanmuscle saidJust leave your cell phone behind at times. It's your choice to carry it around with you.


    I sometime do, but funny how people expect you to answer your cell phone 24/7.
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    Aug 27, 2008 2:01 AM GMT
    Great article. And I agree. Cell phones and e-mail are a convenience. But I don't let them run my life.
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    Aug 27, 2008 7:28 AM GMT
    My cellphone gathers dust in the corner. I refuse to pass on the chain text messages my friends keep sending. And I hate texting, LOL.

    Still, I am in a way enslaved to the internet. Hehe. But I did have an internet-less childhood, does that make me a quarter human, three quarters borg at least? icon_cool.gif
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    Aug 27, 2008 9:09 AM GMT
    Maybe a tech snail sedative, wouldn't go further than that. I hate cell phones, and texting with sausage fingers is no fun, what's up with those micro buttons...basically I only need to accept calls and make some and have a phonebook, the rest is all garbage gadgets. I liked the quarter pounder cells that did just that icon_smile.gif. Blackberry and pda, are you kidding me they require more work to be updated than it is worth the trouble..I use post its if I really need something urgent to be remembered.
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    Aug 27, 2008 9:18 AM GMT
    Hmmm. What if people read that NYT article on their iPhones while out in public? Would that cause them to use their iPhones less, or more?

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    Aug 27, 2008 10:10 AM GMT
    What blather.

    Shorter Ben Stein: Gee, things were better when I was a kid.
    Even shorter: Country good, city bad.

    O please.
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    Aug 27, 2008 12:16 PM GMT
    Ben Stein lost all creditability when he made his little anti evolution movie. Good to know he is a luddite as well. Quoting Rousseau immediately set off my bullshit detector.
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    Aug 27, 2008 12:29 PM GMT
    Oh good grief! He made an anti-evolution movie?!?!?
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    Aug 27, 2008 12:53 PM GMT
    My husband, who is a doctor, told me just last night about a patient he had who, in the midst of a pelvic exam and PAP smear, actually answered her cell phone AND carried on a short conversation.
  • DiverScience

    Posts: 1426

    Aug 27, 2008 1:17 PM GMT
    Meh.

    He's a wanker.

    And he is, as usual, being melodramatic. Yes, it's annoying, yes it's sad but really, get over it.

    Some of us will continue to talk with friends and see the world when we go out. And others will, and always have, found ways to seal themselves off, whether by shoving their hands in their pockets and hunching their shoulders or by sticking in earbuds or a cell phone.

    I have a cell. It sometimes rings. And my friends and family know there's a chance I'll silence it and ignore it if I feel like it.
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    Aug 27, 2008 1:40 PM GMT
    www.expelledthemovie.com

    For anyone who didn't know about his anti evolution movie.
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    Aug 27, 2008 2:49 PM GMT
    I know a many people who are "chained" to technology. I often times wonder what would happen if they were to be without their phone or internet access for one day? Would the world come to a screeching hault? Would life cease to exist outside of the individuals current state of reality? Would they even know what reality is?
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    Aug 27, 2008 3:04 PM GMT
    Yeah because I have a cellphone I obviously lost the ability to introspect.

    Anyway, when I'm walking down the same fucking street alone or walking down some crowded load street and everyone looks ugly, you bet I'm gonna be on my phone and take advantage of the free time I have by talking to people I want to talk to: friends and family.

    This Ben Stein article fails.
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    Aug 27, 2008 3:10 PM GMT
    I read the article and immediately saved it on my desktop. I don't buy his argument--but he is a good writer.
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    Aug 27, 2008 5:50 PM GMT
    jprichva saidWhat blather.

    Shorter Ben Stein: Gee, things were better when I was a kid.
    Even shorter: Country good, city bad.

    O please.


    LOL, yeah just what I was thinking, another Luddite espousing the wonders of the barbarian lifestyle! icon_biggrin.gif

    Seriously communication helps us a lot, especially with my sister abroad and the fact that we will be scattered even more internationally pretty soon. It keeps us connected. Mom and Dad gets to see my niece live on cam and that it itself is a small miracle.

    LibrarianMaybe a tech snail sedative, wouldn't go further than that.


    Oh most definitely not. LOL. I'm a technophile just not keypadophilic icon_lol.gif. We are borg. Resistance is futile.

    futile.jpg
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    Aug 27, 2008 6:10 PM GMT
    Sedative - The Borg Queen:

    The Borg Queen has maintained her individuality in a way that normal Borg drones can't. She coordinates and controls all the drones and spends most of her time in unimatrix 1 with her head and spinal column in her alcove. She seems to have a mostly synthetic body filled with cybernetic implants below her head and shoulders.

    aehm you go girl ! fabulous and whatever fits !

    image002.jpg
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    Aug 27, 2008 6:14 PM GMT
    "With the advent of television, families aren't reading together anymore."

    (rewind)

    "People today are stuck with their noses in these big, daily newspapers instead of listening to the wisdom of the town crier."

    (rewind)

    "The introduction of a common language is destroying human culture. We've lost the personalized grunts and hand gestures that made each of us unique."

    Appreciate it or not, technology helps us to communicate more effectively. Humans have always used technology to strengthen our social structures and improve interaction. One type of interaction is not worse than another just because it is new or different.
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    Aug 27, 2008 6:15 PM GMT
    LibrarianSedative - The Borg Queen:

    The Borg Queen has maintained her individuality in a way that normal Borg drones can't. She coordinates and controls all the drones and spends most of her time in unimatrix 1 with her head and spinal column in her alcove. She seems to have a mostly synthetic body filled with cybernetic implants below her head and shoulders.

    aehm you go girl ! fabulous and whatever fits !


    erm... All U girlfriends R belongs 2 me! icon_twisted.gif
  • Salubrious

    Posts: 420

    Aug 27, 2008 6:25 PM GMT
    I keep my cell phone on me at all times, but I almost never answer it right away. Same thing with emails... I like to take my time responding (though this means I sometimes forget to respond. icon_lol.gif