Last weekend, I found myself lost in Neiman Marcus. Similar to those little girl ventures out into the big world when you turn around and realize your mommy’s hand isn’t right next to you, I swiveled my head around in the shoe department only to be awakened to the absence of my grandmother. Easily enough, I could find my friends Marc (Jacobs), Diane (von Furstenburg), Elie (Tahari), but my dear grandma was nowhere to be seen. I plopped myself down on a plush green couch to optimistically wait for her to return, and I whipped out my phone to alleviate the anxiety of being left alone. (And I am not someone to feel anxious at all when surrounded by Manolos to my left and Louboutins to my right).
“@ Neimans. Lost abuela,” My thumbs typed out to my friend with whom I had been texting earlier. While we carried on a somewhat mundane, blandly comical “conversation,” I glanced up from the four inch screen that captured nearly 100% of my attention to see a Salmon sweater and red lipstick approaching my new home on the lime sofa.
“Grandma!” I said, immediately relieved.
Even though I have been to the store millions of times completely on my own, when I planned to spend the afternoon with my grandmother, a certain uncertainty was immediately alleviated once she returned to my side. I gave her a hug and realized a small silver object clutched in her hand. “My cell phone is always on,” she reminded me.
And that’s when I realized it: we are so dependent on these little pocketable devices that we totally forget how to live our lives. We forget to actually get up off the couch, to take initiatives to find what we want, to achieve things independently. Did I have a cell phone when I found myself alone in the Dunakaroos aisle at age five? Absolutely not. Did I stay and cry and front of the frozen peas for ten minutes? Maybe. Did I wander through every aisle in attempts to find my parents? Did I promise myself to never leave their sides again? Yes yes yes.
We’re never alone. We always have a friend at our fingertips and a hand (phone) to hold. At the bus stop, on a jog, while reading a literary classic. We never have any time to merely sit and think. If we’re not texting, we’re thinking of a new Facebook status or Twitter update. I make plans via text, never once discussing the actual activities. I no longer need to talk to my cousins because I can see their vacation pictures via Facebook. I never even have to leave my bed to learn what my international friends had for breakfast last Tuesday. And best of all, I never have to speak a word. I could have laryngitis for the rest of my life and still let the entire world know what I am thinking every second of my life.
Have we totally lost our communication skills? Do we no longer know how to relate to people? Has technology literally become our new best friend?
It’s true that we are more apt to be more risky in our technological conversations. We lack the eye to eye contact; we can easily click the X and escape anything we may have mistakenly said; we can always feign sarcasm/foolery/little-sibling-typing-syndrome. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Do these methods of easier communication enhance our relationships or only weaken them due to a necessary crutch of hiding behind a screen?
Personally, when I find myself too reliant on pressing my thumbs on my touch screen to tell my friends the most unnecessary of information: “I just had the best lemonade!” “I’m sooooo bored.” “I’m wearing my new shirt!” I try and beg myself to step back a little. But I also wonder if my life would be the same without the luxuries of Instant Messaging and all its little pleasures.
Freshman year, I found myself awake until dawn typing away at my computer to an intense game of truth or dare in a group chat with my best friends. While the demands and questions became sillier/weirder/altogether inappropriate as the night went on, I think that through those weekly confessions we became closer than we ever would have. If AIM never existed and we were forced to spend more time together face to face would we have discussed all these topics? Probably not. Would we have owned up to our deep secrets if we looked each other right in the eye? I’m going to guess not.
The reality is, while technology easily becomes an obsession and even sometimes a burden in our lives, we need to find a balance between helpful and excessive. I’m thankful to my buddy list for bringing me closer to my friends, for helping me initiate hard-to-discuss topics that were later re-discussed in person. I’m thankful to my phone for being a most loyal friend, for allowing me to contact anyone at anytime, allowing my friends to console me at 1:00, 2:00. 3:00 in the morning when I thought my life would end if I couldn’t communicate with someone (and vice versa).
I envision myself sixty years from now, texting my granddaughter to tell her exactly where I’m waiting inside of Neiman Marcus, posting Facebook pictures from my latest Scrabble tournament (Okay I do that now…), book club meeting, or early bird special dinner, or even twittering from the hearing-aid doctor’s office. I wonder what we will look like, balancing our canes in one hand and hundredth generation iPhones in the other.