“Are you reading that?”
These words were commonplace in coffee shops back in the day, before the Starbucks corporate coffee takeover had come about.
Back when mom and pops java shops still ruled.
Back when loitering at the local penny university was not only allowed but encouraged, and patrons were perceived as part of the business owner’s extended family.
When newspapers and magazines lay on random empty corner coffee-tables as second-hand giveaways from the subscribers that had already devoured them.
If the paper happened to be on their table or just beside them, you would hear these words, and the most graceful of hand-offs would happen.
And the spirit of the words, both said and read, would live on.
It was a different era, a different time.
The digital revolution was still in its infancy.
You could hear the static-like sound of the dial-up modem with the lag in connection as an understood process that we accepted with patience.
“You’ve got mail!” was not yet a rom-com, but a singular audible alert letting you know someone had written to you.
A monitor was a tube and not yet a flat-screen, and a desktop was as mobile as it got.
When you called someone, their phone would actually ring with real bells, and if they didn’t answer, they really weren’t there.
Words were read on pages of paper, and we leaned back, instead of hunching forward.
A wave, a wink, a smile, or a nod weren’t emoticons or GIFs. They were actual gestures with raw emotion, and with no obstruction.
If we press the fast-forward button and move back to the present, it’s not that all these elements aren’t a part of our world today.
We have the words, we have the connections, we have the phone calls, the communications or the evolved communication platforms, but the way in which we read them, use them, and experience them has dramatically changed.
The gaps of time between the different devices have shortened to nanoseconds.
We frenetically move from device to device, mobile to laptop, app to email, text to instant messaging, at lightning speeds, morning to night, never wondering if we are leading technology or being led by it.
The devices, screens, and desktops have become smaller and faster. Desktops have shrunk to laptops and once clunky cell phones have shrunk to mobile smartphones that easily slip into our pockets and bags, going with us everywhere we go.
But, as the devices and technology shrink, as the gaps of time between our use of the different devices shrink, has our sense of our own humanity shrunk with it as well?
Our disconnect from the world around us, along with our pseudo-robotic twitch-like movements as we manipulate our devices, certainly demonstrates an absence of it.
When you look at what was more of a “traditional” versus “digital” era, we took more time for things and we directly interacted with the physical world and those around us.
Does this mean we should grab the largest of trash cans and throw everything in it? No, not hardly!
But there is a balance to the two worlds.
And there are boundaries that establish that balance.
There are boundaries and they are not created by the tech leaders that develop or produce the technology or software. Nor should we wait for them or anyone else to create them.
If we want to lead technology instead of being led by it, then the boundaries are set by us.
At the close of the year, I read through the usual suspects of New Year’s resolutions from friends and family—losing weight, less drinking, quitting smoking, but a number of messages and posts specifically mentioned “unplug!”
No extremes, but maybe it is time for a break.
Maybe it’s a good time to unplug.
Maybe it’s a good time to have a cup of coffee and read a newspaper.
“Are you reading that?”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.