By Scott Barrons
Recently I purchased an E-reader to keep me company on a trip to visit family out west. Dropping $300 dollars on a Samsung Galaxy tablet 7.0, a device that turned out to be comparable to the LG Optimus Android-powered phone that was reliable but too small to really enjoy, an entire evening was spent loading the new tablet with comics and e-books. Some additional apps were downloaded and preferences adjusted while neglecting to pack books, paper or socks _ all to prepare for the media fun time on the plane out to Colorado.
In flight, Sweet Tooth comics were read in full length pages, while having music playing in the background _ from the same sleek, comfortable device! Enamored _ four hours of making good use of the tablet’s crystal-clear display: comics, books, games, even video. It truly is a miracle machine.
During the trip, riding in a car with three family members, it was decided to leave the device behind _ four hours without the tablet! The next day it came along, on a father-son outing, up to the mountains towards Vail. Half the time was spent reading as opposed to taking in the beautiful aspens that sprinkle the valleys with bright yellow streaks and writing about them or asking Dad about his life. Instead, reading an e-book, Mario Vargas Llosa’s “Who Killed Palomino Molero?” seemed more important. Finishing it on the flight home, in the dark, the e-book strained the eyes after three hours of intent reading. It was only after the flight that I struck up a conversation with a woman who sat across from me on the plane. Chatting all the way down the concourse it was refreshing to see that, though she had an iPad, she had been reading a printed People magazine.
Zombie-like eyes stayed glued to the screen for the hour-and-one-half train ride home. The craving to read more itched, as the need to use the tablet continued upon entering the apartment _ the withdraw symptoms were similar to those that smokers feel.
Technology and information is fought over these days by the clever manipulation of children’s interests. Studies are performed on the benefits of technology as an educational tool in the classroom _ how only with the most sophisticated machinery will a child have proper opportunity. Long ago, a child was considered privileged if they had a land line in their room. Ten years ago all kids had cell phones. Now all their multimedia, informational and communicative needs are taken care of with one device _ why even hang out with each other?
It is easy to observe the severing effect that advanced, personal computer systems have on society _ ear-buds with loud music assaulting the tympanic membrane; small, hypnotic screens acting as blinders from the rest of the world; solely relying on the directional layout of a GPS navigator that will never truly educate people on where they are or how to get anywhere. Society is now helpless without their devices, can’t even find food or water. “The things you own end up owning you.”
Parents are the targets, and Children are the victims; time-and-attention-devouring devices make life easier and can even act as babysitters and tutors, diminishing the traditional role of the parent, turning them into more of a technology dealer for their children. (Two of the major cell phone companies feature family plans as their main service _ they want to sell to everyone.) With each of your children holding a wireless-electronic-information-and-communication device in their hands, they _ and you _ will be too busy to share the building animosity felt towards each other rather escaping into a world of easy downloads and “Angry Birds.”
There was an old viral video showing an infant enjoying the whiles of an iPad, deftly navigating and giggling in happy abandon. It then showed him next to a book; and though the baby attempted the same swipe-and-go techniques required for tablet use, he, unfortunately, had no need for the book. Also take into account the story which has now become archetypal: father gives young child an Android, young child downloads many items then father receives a bill for many thousands of dollars. At some point, do we feel taken advantage of by the device?
How long will it be before our children completely lose the use of things not considered “modern,” in the face of “superior” technology? Will this baby, who tries to swipe paper pages like she would the shiny sheen of the iPad, grow up to fear and revile the old, manual, analog ways? Will books be wiped out by an entire generation of infantile swipers?
Whether it’s work or personal use, how many of us stare at the screen of a magic thinking machine _ and for how many hours a day? The first and most obvious impact that severe cyber use can leave is on the “windows to the soul,” the eyes we humans take so much pride in having evolved. The eyes are the breakwaters against the hurricane of entertainment _ for some, at all waking hours. Over the years the color tube of old TV’s has evolved into a focused, liquid-plasma cannonade of light _ the likes of which people have used LSD to experience.
If you have computer vision syndrome, you may experience some or all of these symptoms: blurred or double vision, red or dried eyes, headaches, or neck or back pain. Computer vision syndrome affects 50-to-90 percent of people who work with a computer. Imagine a TSA worker intently studying a high-definition X-ray readout for an entire shift, riding the train home, playing games on their smart phones only to later couch surf and watch shows on their plasma-screens while perusing the web on their laptops and downloading apps on their tablets. Between all the fun things one can buy, it is easy to have eyes locked onto a screen for an entire day without blinking the proverbial eye.
Add to this physiological mix to what is called an “upper-cross syndrome or UCS.” Even as this article is written, its author experiences a forward head posture complete with jutted chin, clenched teeth, taut muscles in back of a bowed neck _ a situation ripe for chronic tension and migraine.
A device-addicted mind will drive one to check the thing _ given no indication there was a need to _ an average of 33 times a day (according to a three-day study conducted last week by this reporter). When thinking of other activities one might repeatedly perform on a daily basis, few things come to mind (check Facebook – 9 times a day; masturbation – twice a day; times cracking neck to side – 12; drink water – 9 times [all approximates except masturbation]). The compulsion to check the phone is more obsessive than cracking knuckles or that sickly catchy pop tune you can’t quite get out of your head.
It doesn’t take a scientific study to see that these devices have provided a beautiful excuse not to talk to each other at all. Yes, they are phones, but who really calls anyone anymore? You can simply use voice-commanded text, press send and walk away, knowing you did your part _ at least for a minute. It also does not require elaborate research to know that, on any given public transit vessel, fully 50 percent of riders have eyes locked to liquid crystal screens. At least the anxiety of [failing at] meeting new people in public will be taken care of.
Any utility one might gain, from having a tablet, can easily and more intuitively be satisfied with a pen and paper, and a book or magazine, in your backpack. Ten days with a Samsung Galaxy was enough to be convinced that, as far as consumer technology has come, it will be a phenomenally long time before real humanitarian use can be made of it. Meanwhile the art of the novel, the institution of the magazine, the integrity of the artists’ experience are all under constant digital attack. The war for our children is being broadcasted in high definition. And, unfortunately, books _ physical, perfect-bound paper books _ have piled up on the shelf above where this article was written, a queue of faithful lovers awaiting the writer’s distraction. While social lives may suffer just as much as under the weight of an expensive e-reader, such is the price that is paid for intimacy on some level.