Put that Cell Phone Down and Look Me in the Eye!

Author’s Note: Interestingly, since writing this column in early 2013, I can say that this phenomenon, which was rather new, then, is now far larger and greater a social issue than it was at the time of writing. It is no longer something for which the younger generation can be blamed. Rather, it is now pervasive among all generations. It has spread like a disease. It is important to always realize that it is not the technology or the instrument which is at fault. It is the failure of people to become aware of and to take control of their personal behaviors.

Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, e-mailing, Instagraming, uploading, downloading, Blogging, Touting, Tumblering and a whole host of other “ings” have become the new normal for today’s younger generation that keeps their eyes on their mobile phones and away from the real eye balls of others. We’ve all had the experience of trying to speak to someone, only to have that person pretend to pay half-attention to you while engaged in something on their mobile device. It’s not fun and it’s certainly not complimentary. In fact, it’s downright annoying and irritating. It is, sorry to say, the new normal in every day interpersonal communications. And if, per chance, a person is not engaged in one of the above “ings”, they are talk”ing” to someone on their cell phone—all of the time; everywhere.

Today’s mobile and technological generation is addicted to their mobile device. They do it while they walk, when driving, while they ride the bus or the subway, while they watch TV, while they lie in bed, when they sit at the dinner table and, most of all, when someone is trying to speak to them in person. It is almost as if one is better off communicating with this generation through a mobile device and not person to person. This raises the question: is this the way life will be? Are we reduced to a society of techno-talkers whose only awareness falls upon that which appears across the screen or through the speaker of a mobile device? For those of us over 40, it has undoubtedly become the largest generational gap ever experienced in the history of humankind. Never before has such a difference in behavior existed between one generation and the next. So do those of us who are older resign ourselves to this new existence? Do we accept it? Do we throw up a digital white flag, admit defeat and join it?

Beyond the sorely lacking humanity of today’s technological generation, there are other things that widen the gap between the younger and the older. Jackets and ties have been replaced by “hoodies”. Casual Fridays have become casual every days. The once valued character traits of being on time, returning phone calls, knowing how to properly shake hands, make eye-contact and using good grammar have all taken a back seat to slang, abbreviations, emoticons and habitual lateness. No longer do we uphold models of good character and behavior. Today’s generation idolizes those who lie, cheat, steal, swear and engage in acts which once were held to scorn and disapproval. So where are we headed? To what can we look forward?

As I’ve written before, I believe that what is wrong today is that we no longer have a clear distinction between our public and private behaviors. We don’t strive to uphold the highest and greatest ideals in our public selves. As a result, there are no models or standards toward which today’s generation can look. It is not the younger generation who is at fault. It is all of us. We each share responsibility in building a better world. We each are a spoke on the larger wheel of life. We’ve allowed ourselves to lower the standards to which we all once held ourselves publically. By doing so, we leave absolutely no standard, no framework and no model toward which today’s generation can strive. It is time that society returns to the responsibility of individuality. Behind each person who complains about today’s youth is one who has failed to be the best he or she can be in all that they do.