Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

An Observation

A few days ago, I joined a family outing to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Though I live less than five miles from downtown, it was my first visit, and I must confess that I was impressed. It is extremely well-designed, and the main aquarium, which is billed as the largest in the world, was quite spectacular. An ocean environment has been recreated in the tank, and it contains the smallest of fish, all the way up to hammerhead and whale sharks. I'm not really comfortable with the idea of keeping those larger species in such a tank, given that they travel great distances in the wild. This is especially true of the beluga whales, which are kept in a smaller tank of their own. These whales are quite intelligent, and it's just plain wrong to confine them like that. It's equivalent to locking a person up in a jail cell. That said, I enjoyed the experience, and I'd like to go again.

The aquarium was crowded on the day I went, and I spent as much time watching the people as I did the water life. What really surprised me was the way in which people were using cell phones. Some were using them as cameras. Others were talking to friends and family in other parts of the aquarium. Kids were sending instant messages. None of this was unexpected, but the scale of it was. We are going through a true cultural change, and the cellphone is well on its way to becoming an indispensible personal assistant. This has been predicted, but I didn't realize that it was so far along on the way to becoming a reality.

I don't own a cellphone. It's not that I'm a latter-day Luddite. In fact, I'm more a technophile than phobe, but I do have my reservations about this device. By permitting people to, in a sense, carry their own little microcosm around with them, it discourages them from engaging the world around them. I once might have passed someone on the street and exchanged a casual greeting. Now, if that person is on the phone, he's scarcely even aware that I exist. It can be even stranger when someone has one of those Bluetooth devices. They can be walking down the street talking away, seemingly to no one at all. In behavior, there's little to distinguish them from madmen talking to themselves. This obliviousness can be downright dangerous when those who are talking are behind the wheel. Studies have shown that drivers who are talking on the phone are as dangerous as drunks. Judging by my own personal experiences, I'd have to concur.

Don't get me wrong. These are wonderful devices. It looks like they will soon function as credit cards and, for many people, replace the PC in providing access to the Internet, but such blessings are not unmitigated. I firmly believe that people should find community, not in the ether, but in the world around them.


Blogger David Matthews said...

I agree with you on pretty much all counts, sharing your mixed feelings about aquariums and zoos while enjoying them.

I dipped my own toe a bit further into the 21st century in January with purchase of a cell phone. I find it especially useful when traveling or rendezvousing for dinner, if one of us runs late, for example. But as you say, the blessings are not unmitigated, among other things tying people ever more tightly to the workplace. One is always on call.

8:17 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home