Is it really so difficult to unplug and engage with our surroundings? Has the media and our electronic devices become our new security blankets?


By Tanya Tiger

I fear we are quickly becoming a nation of distracted consumers.

I won’t generalize by saying we all get caught up in television shows, social media, or stare endlessly at our smartphones, but I believe that many of us fall into this trap. I can’t remember the last time I went hiking and didn’t see numerous people texting or talking on their phones while on the trails—completely distracted by the glowing device in their hand—they miss the point of being out in nature.

My internal dialogue sounds something like this, “Yes, you’re out in the fresh air and getting some exercise but look around people! What’s out there in the real world is much more interesting than whatever text or tweet you’re sending and receiving.”

Is it really so difficult to unplug and engage with our surroundings? Has the media and our electronic devices become our new security blankets? Are we like small children, afraid of the dark, we cling to the little glowing boxes as if our lives depended on it. At what expense?

Before I continue, I want to clarify that this is not a tirade against all media or electronics;that would be ridiculous, especially this day and age. In fact, I’m a fan of social media; it’s how I share a great deal of my writing and connect with people with whom I would not otherwise have a strong connection. My frustration comes from the level of distraction stemming from what appears to be a rising addiction to electronic devices paired with the need to numb out in front of the television.

The point of this article to ask the question, “What are we missing by spending more time with our phones, TV, or computers than with the flesh and blood people around us?”

I can understand the need to distance oneself from reality occasionally. In many ways, the world is a steaming pile of shite right now—and most of us would rather think about anything other than the world’s problems—but, we have taken it far beyond the breaking point. People are becoming tech-zombies. It is rare to find a person walking down the street who doesn’t have some form of electronic device attached to their body.

They might be surrounded by people, yet they are completely disconnected from the world. It’s become such a standard behavior that a nickname has even been coined for people who frequently walk and text at the same time: Petextrians. While this little moniker may seem ‘clever,’ it is a sad sign of the times.

The Ohio State University conducted local research and found that an estimated 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms in 2010 for injuries related to using their cellphones while walking. The concern is that this number will continue to rise.

In addition to missing out on natural wonders, or risking being struck by a bus as we cross the street, we have become so reliant on our technologies that we have, in many ways, forgotten how to function without them. For example, how many people can still read a map versus using their GPS? How many people suffer from poor social skills due to reduced interaction with others? I had students who were terrified to go on interviews because they would have to actually interact with another human being face-to-face!

Other problems arise, such as the ever-expanding interpersonal crevasse between people. Americans are listed as some of the loneliest people in the world yet we are also the most likely to be planted in front of the television or computer rather than out engaging in social activities. Even when we do go out, we are often found with our phones in our hands texting away.

We complain that we feel empty and disconnected, but we spend more time in virtual reality than we do engaging in our actual day-to-day lives.

In the past, people would have protested by marching or casting their vote. Now we condemn travesties, such as world hunger and homelessness, and share tweets and Facebook posts about it rather than volunteering our time or donating to the cause. We criticize politicians and swap texts and tweets about our disagreements with how things are being done, but we fail to vote, sign petitions, or join a rally.

We are drawn together briefly by tragic events, and then we become distracted by the next news story, celebrity drama, or the shenanigans of some drunk sports star.

I find myself wondering why so many feel compelled to live their lives through the tiny window of a cellphone screen. Is it fear of being overwhelmed by the immensity of struggle in the world? Is it apathy brought on by feelings of powerlessness to fix the problems? Is it thoughts of the problems belonging to someone else? Is it something more insidious, like government wagging the dog?

If our attention is diverted away from what’s happening behind the curtain, then we’ll be less prone to complain or rise up. If we are all individually distracted, mired down in our own little worlds, then we are far less likely to join forces and stand against those who would threaten our democracy. Are we being held hostage by weapons of mass distraction?

Maybe it’s none of this, or maybe it’s all of this. Some think that we just don’t care anymore, that we’ve given up and can’t be bothered. Some people need constant stimulation and freak out if their screen goes dark. Some feel more comfortable as an avatar than they do in their own skin. Some say our distraction is a byproduct of an ADD society. Some say we’re too selfish to care about anyone or anything beyond our own selves.

Some choose to use the media as a weapon for good while others choose to use it to spread hatred. Some of us see media and technology as helpful tools within proper times and places. Some see them as necessary for survival. Some see it all for what it is, a distraction from reality.

I believe that the media, and technology in general, is whatever the individual chooses to make it. I do not believe it should be the only mode of interaction we have with our world and each other.

We need more action and less distraction.

Photo: (source)

Editor: John Author