by Deborrah Uecker
Professor of Communication at Wisconsin Lutheran College and CMI Board Member
A popular TV show in the 60’s was ‘I Dream of Jeannie’. I loved that show. A handsome astronaut, goofy friend, and of course the ‘Jennie’ trapped in a bottle who must serve the ‘master’ who sets her free. Jeannie grants the wishes of her master, and at the same time tries to remain anonymous to the world. Interesting conundrum and a premise that kept the show on the air way beyond the point it was no longer that good of a show.
The media saturated world of today can be looked at perhaps as the Jeannie set free from the bottle. The pervasive media that is a part of all aspects of our lives grants our wish for an easy life of information, instant connection to each other, and endless opportunities to fill our free time with games and trivia. Recent research has found that technology is significantly altering the way we relate to others. Studies have recently discovered that constant use of screen technology may actually be changing our brain chemistry. One study looked at human attention span. Humans average attention span is 4 seconds. A goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds! Not sure how you test a goldfish….but point taken.
So what do we do? We can’t turn back history and put technology back in the bottle. Though there are days when I wish that we could. As a professor of communication for 30 years I am concerned with the lack of conversation I see among students in my classes. I always arrive early, circulate and try to connect with my students. But I feel like I am imposing or interrupting them as they stare at their phones and see what has transpired in their lives in the past five minutes. We seem to be losing the ability to ‘small talk’ with each other. To share the stories of our day. To listen to each other in an attempt to learn how other people’s lives work.
On many college campuses and society at large we continually hear the call for diversity. Diversity is seen as the way to make the world better as a result of being with others who are different from us. Learning about the experiences of others in ways that enrich our lives and connect us to those different from ourselves. But enrichment will not come from just being next to each other in the same room. It can only come when we talk to each other. When we listen to each other’s experiences and perspectives. We can only know where each other is coming from when we have a conversation.
Technology is a tool that can help to make connections. It is a gift that God has placed among us to be used as a way to stay connected, to know about each other, and to share the wonder of our lives with others. But it does not replace the face to face contact that is an essential part of being human. ‘It is not good for man to be alone….I will create a helpmate for him….’ God gives us each other. He gives us minds and tongues to share His story with others. He gives us technology to do it faster, easier perhaps in some ways. Like the Jeannie in the bottle, it can grant us the wish we all have as humans. The wish to belong, to know and to fit in. We are the ‘master’ of technology. Each of has a choice…use it wisely…or keep the lid on it.