I spent last Saturday night in a Manhattan cafe brainstorming ideas for an upcoming project. Across from me was a young couple — mid-twenties, I would guess — on a date. Except that they weren't really talking to each other. Or really looking at each other. Instead, they were scrolling through their cell phones most of the time.
Of course, they would look up from time to time to share a funny exchange or to talk about where they grew up or what friend was soon to be married — all the while intermittently typing on their touch screens. Moments of silence would be accompanied by scrolling through who-knows-what and answering who-knows-whom. The phones never left the table; their eyes occasionally left the phones.
Just a few tables over, an elderly couple — early seventies, I would guess — was also on a date. I could tell that they didn't know each other too well. There was something new and fresh about their exchanges. I could overhear bits and pieces of stories about their childhoods, about places they'd lived and people who had changed their lives along the way. There were lots of silent pauses where they would take a minute to just look at each other. Those moments would be remembered, I'd imagine.
I sat up in my chair and looked back and forth between the two couples. Then I looked down at my phone, resting on my table, capturing my attention. The older couple had it right. We, the younger generation, were doing something wrong.
Sure, technology has made this world terribly efficient. Advances in science and medicine aside, imagine your life without your computer, cell phone, text messaging, email, DVR, and more. Things would be slower, less advanced, and decidedly more difficult to get done. However, Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that, "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else."
So, what have we lost?
Those moments of silence on dates when we now glance at our phones were once moments of silence where we'd look into another's eyes and learn something.
Emails are quick. And easy. But opening up the mail and seeing an "I love you" in someone's handwriting is a whole other world. It's effort, for starters. And that means something.
Relationship goodbyes through texts are conveniently detached. But having to say those goodbyes in person makes you face your mistakes, your flaws, and the hurt you've caused and received. Heck, sometimes those moments even change the course of history.
Asking someone out via text message or email protects you from the fear of rejection. But doing it in person takes guts, makes you stronger, and teaches you how to make a woman smile or a boy feel like a man.
We may be building up technological advancement, but are we building character? Are we gaining or losing the ability to really connect? We may be saving time, but are we losing important moments?
Technology saves lives. It promotes progress. And it's the reason we're able to successfully lead in a modern world. But I would argue that there's a way to preserve a bit of what my grandparents' generation did so well — those moments that last a lifetime, that change lives, that define who we are, and that teach us how to be the best people we can be.
My grandma used to tell me that if she could have one day back with the love of her life, she wouldn't waste a second. I fear that my generation would waste much more than that.
I guess it's up to us to make those changes. I, for one, am ready to start today.
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