Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

“Connected” or Zombie-Like

What’s the difference?

I recently read online about a report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that found cell phone ownership among adults has reached 91%. The 9% of people not using them probably includes those that can’t afford them, or older people who haven’t fully embraced them yet. So, it’s safe to say that almost all adults are connected via cell phone by now.

Add to this, as I was driving today and noticing the number of drivers who were not paying attention at red lights or stop signs, or when sitting in traffic, because they were talking on their phone or reading their texts. Twice people came out of streets without stopping with the phone to their ear. And as I watched all of this, I was thinking about the number of times my own kids “forget” something because their noses are buried in Smartphones.

As my mind connected dots with this behavior, I also began to think about a movie I recently watched with Brad Pitt, “World War Z.” If you haven’t seen it, the movie (and the “Z”) is about zombies taking over our world. They are everywhere, and it is difficult to escape them. I couldn’t help but begin to make a connection between the zombie-like behavior in the movie, and the behavior people seem to have with their phones.

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When we are focused on our phones—or any electronic device, for that matter—the screen can become trance-like; we follow tweets and Instagram (etc.) and believe much of what we read, sometimes without researching or questioning it, we don’t often notice others around us—all of which is zombie-like in many ways. How often do we miss what’s happening around in the “real” world in favor of the electronic one?

Think about our world today. How many people walk through a park, or stroll along a street, without a smartphone in hand or earbuds as their companions? What are we missing in our ability to stop, breathe, look, listen and connect with the world, when we don’t lift our heads up long enough to see what’s actually going on around us?

Those pictures on Instagram? There are more beautiful things out in the real world. Those videos that compel you to keep clicking and keep watching on YouTube? There are better stories happening right outside your window, or in your own home.

Numerous articles have been written about whether “the younger generation” is losing their ability to communicate and interact, but what about the ability to be “real”? Are we losing the sense of wonderment in the world around us because we are so obsessed with what we might miss on the screen of our computer? Are we missing a chance to look someone in the eye and smile, because our attention is drawn down to our smartphone screen? Are we losing the chance to hear that small still voice that tells us “don’t walk there” or “head over in that direction” because there is no silence for us to hear it?

Are we becoming zombies, addicted to a false sense of what matters and missing out on what really does?

I’m not suggesting technology is entirely bad. The ability to check in with my teenager via text and know one of them has arrived safely, or to “Google” an issue I need a solution to, or to go online and buy shoes in a size that can’t be found in stores – these are all wonderful advancements. I am only suggesting we want to be aware of what we might sacrifice in the interests of not losing out on knowing all that we need to know.

It seems that somehow in the “not missing out” and staying connected at all times, we are missing out on much of what is happening around us.

If you want to test this out, see whether you can take a walk without the phone or iPod for companion. See whether you can ride in a car, or on a train, without needing to check your messages. See whether you can spend an afternoon simply looking at the world around you. The ability to stay still and quiet, and to connect with something Greater than ourselves, simply cannot be found if an electronic connection is required.

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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