The social knot

Friday, July 29, 2011

A lot of so-called experts seem to be saying that all the high-tech doodads used to communicate these days have created a social network that ties us all together.

I say, What have these people been smoking?

As some of you will recall, my wife and I gave up our phone, the one that thought it was smarter than God, and switched to a phone that is slightly more intelligent than a golden retriever.

It's painful to observe parents of teenagers having to rely on instant messaging to communicate in any meaningful way. Example:

"Lab tests are back. Your appendectomy scheduled for Thursday. I'll drive."

Hello! Is that the tweet you want to send your 17-year-old?

This week my wife and I were having lunch at a popular restaurant. A youngish couple arrived to sit at the booth across from our table. Immediately, they got out their smart phones and started pecking away at the itsy-bitsy keyboard. Not a word was exchanged.

After a few moments, the woman held up her phone for the man across the table to see. When he looked up and saw what was on the phone's display, he grinned. Then he looked back at his phone and started typing again. No words were uttered.

The waitress arrived to take their order. The youngish woman waved her away. The waitress returned. Neither the youngish woman nor the youngish man took any notice.

The waitress looked at us and shrugged. I shrugged back. Shrugging, I think, is a step above instant messaging in the New World Order. But I'm just guessing.

In recent years, "privacy" has been a major issue. The federal government has passed all kinds of laws, rules and regulations aimed at protecting our privacy.

During this buildup of government-mandated isolation, apps for devices like the smart phone have gone the other direction. Instead of modesty, decorum and a modicum of etiquette, users of these apps put every intimate detail out into an electronic atmosphere for everyone to see.

"Just went to the bathroom," goes one message. "Out of TP. Ugh!"

I didn't need to know that. No one needed to know that. No one.

Instead of networking, it looks to me like me like most users of available technology are creating a giant knot of information. Some of that information is intended for certain recipients, but everyone else can get to it. That's not networking. That's exposing yourself in public.

Of all the "social networking" scenes I see played out far too often, the one that floors me the most is this:

"Hi. What're you doing? I'm at the Walmart. In the produce section. What? Oh, now I see you."

And instead of putting the phone away and going over to whomever she was talking to and giving her a hug or some other sociable greeting, the woman whose conversation I've just heard pushes her cart to the bread aisle and keeps yakking away.

If that's networking, I'm glad I'm disconnected.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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