Zion Nat'l Park, Columbine

Technology and Your Ears:Blocking Out the World

Call me old fashioned, call me too friendly, call me naive, and I will respond by telling you that I am very curious about the impact that cell phones and ear buds are having on the way we interact, connect, and respond to others. It is a phenomena that I have noticed and been talking about for a couple of years now, and one for which my awareness has reached new heights.

Cell phones have permeated our society–and rightly so, they are a marvelous tool. You can stay in touch with family, check in with the office, or chat with a friend when you have a few moments to spare. I use my iPhone to keep notes of new foods to try, books to read, and brilliant ideas that pop into my head. The GPS on my phone has come in handy many, many times to help me navigate in unfamiliar territory, not to mention the ability to locate the nearest Starbucks.

Ear buds are another of society’s sensations. Personally, I have not gone that way so much–mine are used occasionally, on an airplane and that’s about it–but for many other people, putting in the buds is synonymous with going out of the house or office. It is amusing to see the person who is attempting subtlety by threading the ear bud cord under their shirt so that only the last 4 inches of the cord is visible as it snakes into their ears, and equally amusing but puzzling to me, is the one-eared approach–as if that person is willing to half pay attention to the outside world.

That’s what I am alluding to: the paying attention aspect of living amongst the rest of the world. I once followed a woman in a grocery store, who initially appeared to be schizophrenic but merely turned out to be engaged in an animated phone call, first over which cereal to purchase but then lapsing into a disciplinary session for either her child or husband, I could not discern which. I was so fascinated by her willingness to carry on so, while in a public place, that I stalked her, watching her pick up a few more items. She proceeded to get on line, never once slowing down her conversation. As she waiting and talked talked talked into the phone, a sweet young toddler in the cart in front of her attempted to engage her, as sweet young toddlers will do, but this woman was oblivious. As she moved up the line and eventually stood right in front of the cashier, she was too engaged in her phone call to notice the cashier ask, “did you find everything…”, or to notice that the cashier stopped in mid sentence when she noticed that she was not being noticed! The phone talker was a pro, because she was able to swipe her ATM card, collect her receipt and coupons without pausing a moment in her conversation. She sauntered out of the grocery store, talking all the while.

What I felt then was that is woman had chosen to minimize the quality of her place in the world that day. She missed the chance to feel joyful when the toddler attempted to elicit a smile, or to appreciate when the cashier exchanged pleasantries with her. And that was just what I had witnessed; who knows how many other human interactions she allowed to pass her by, simply because instead, she allowed the pervasive presence of technology to dominate her awareness?

Earbuds and cell phones were certainly on my radar last week while we were in Washington, DC. Washington is a bustling, exciting, very crowded metropolis.  The eclectic mixing of people was incredible; people of different colors, ages, shapes, and lifestyles. One commonality was noticeable: ears were blocked. Hearing, listening, and paying attention to the outside world was greatly diminished for most people by either ear buds or cell phones. Instead of being able to catch someone’s eye to smile and mention the gorgeous sky or to wish them a good morning, people were focused on their technological gadgets. No spontaneous conversations were to be had on the crowded subway, because the ear buds precluded conversation. Human contact, warmth, empathy, connectedness, camaraderie, joy, curiosity–all rich emotions to share with others, strangers or not–becomes diminished when we choose to block out the world. Each and any opportunity to share these emotions with others will enrich our lives, that moment, because we have chosen to be engaged in the world, not in technology.

Of course cell phones and ear buds have a place in our world. I am not that naive. All I am saying is that there is an appropriate time and place for them. Consider enhancing your day by looking around when you are amongst other human beings, enjoy the smile and small talk from a fellow traveler on the subway, spread joy by pointing out the spectacular clouds contrasting with the blue sky to the guy standing on the corner with you waiting for the light to change, allow a toddler to elicit a smile from you, you will be better for it.

Can you see the possibilities?

Robin Mallery

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The best thing I did when I discovered I had Type 2 Diabetes was to call Robin Mallery. She coached me to craft a plan to turn this condition around, and the encouragement to believe that I can.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I am managing well, using Robin’s program of small steps, achievable goals, and positive reinforcement.  She’s not only a fountain of knowledge and experience, but a loving teacher and motivator.  For the first time in years, I don’t feel helpless about eating and weight gain.  Thank you, Robin!

—GC, Austin

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