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  • T. W. Emory

Main Attraction or Sideshow?

Worries and anxieties about technological developments are nothing new. The use and spread of new technologies during the industrial age were often initially met with fears and concerns over their perceived negative impact on society. For instance, alarms were sounded about the printing press overwhelming the public with a deluge of uncontrollable information. People feared the 30 miles-per-hour speed of early trains, believing that going that fast could kill you by possibly melting your body. Apparently, some parents in rural areas initially feared that the bicycle would lead to their young folk getting into serious problems by making it possible for them to venture too far from hearth and home. Some people wouldn’t even touch early telephones for fear of electric shock. Some feared that the radio would keep children from reading and would have a bad effect on their schooling. Later, there were those who feared that television might be detrimental to listening to the radio, conversation, reading, and family life. Not surprisingly, alarms are now sounding and red flags are being raised when it comes to the use of technological developments in our digital or information age.

Just recently I heard an interesting discussion on the radio about a study dealing with concerns about social media. It brought to mind something I read in Reader’s Digest back when I was in high school. As I recall, it was in the feature known as, “Life in These United States,” which regularly presented true anecdotes sent in by readers that were often accompanied by an amusing illustration or cartoon. The particular item I’m thinking of was submitted by someone who’d witnessed something fairly odd while visiting the Grand Canyon. It seems he watched as a station wagon pulled up and a family speedily piled out to take a quick look at the famous river-carved gorge. The mom and kids gawked and gazed for a few moments while the dad hurriedly took several pictures with a camera that seemed glued to his face. Having quickly taken the shots he wanted, the dad said to his troops, ‘Okay, everyone back in the car! We can look at the slides when we get home!’ And then off they drove.

Again, I was reminded of the foregoing story when learning that social media seems to be taking a strange toll on people according to a study done. While the pay-off is arguably a quick endorphin fix, it seems that most people are constantly checking such things as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, their texts, and their emails, so often during each day in fact, that their stress levels are rising. While evidently some stress is actually relieved by “sharing” certain items with friends and family, this is being over-matched by the sheer amount of distressing events a person is exposed to as well as the frenetic and near-frantic checking engaged in throughout the day. (One solution offered, is to limit such checking to just one or two times a day. Coincidentally, I learned of a trend in the north American market mentioned on a recent radio business show, indicating that the lowly flip phone is making a comeback as many people are getting rid of their smart phones, and discovering that with a flip phone they have more time and feel less bothered.) Not so ironically, the apparent ‘social media addiction’ seems to also be isolating people, because while a kind of artificial connection to many others out there in cyberspace is provided to the individual checker, it’s costing them in-person connections because actual-presence interaction with friends and family is being sacrificed in the process.

To bring this full circle: For now it would appear that more and more people are electing, as it were, not to visit the Grand Canyon but are opting to watch the slide show instead. An oversimplification of matters to be sure. And of course, as with past worries about past inventions, only time will tell just how valid or how serious current fears and concerns really are, and whether or not substance will lose out to shadow as people forego the actual main attraction for a virtual sideshow.

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