Saturday, January 10, 2009

When Technology Gets Too Personal

Yesterday, I saw the saddest technologically-induced sight: four friends eating together in one table but not talking. The culprit: mp3 players.

The thing about MP3 players is that they make one feel not alone and they create a bubble of companionship for the owner. What we don’t usually see and feel is that this bubble is slowly getting thicker and thicker until we lose contact of other human beings.

Today, the MP3 player is more than just an MP3 player. It may also come with videos, photos and other multimedia files. This makes this gadget all-mighty (in its truest sense) and it appeals to our senses very invasively. The newest headphones are even made with noise cancellators to make the experience of hearing music more “sensual”. Simply put, these players are designed to substitute what human beings can offer!

I’ve always been anti-MP3 so when these MP3 players have flooded the market and people have been using and buying those more frequently I’ve observed human behavior curiously. I found out that people who don’t know each other and happen to be in the same place lost—or immensely reduced-- eye contact. People in the jeepney, inside an elevator, lining up to pay bills…almost everywhere! Before, people try to chat each other up or exchange quick pleasantries. Today, they’re listening to God-knows-what.

See, with an MP3, if you are with a person you don’t know, it’s easier to put the headset on and remain a stranger. However, without an MP3, you are somehow forced to make do of whatever is there to entertain you or to eat your time. So you will get to know the person. For the side of that other person, an MP3 player makes one look “occupied”, therefore there is no motivation for that person to also get to know you if you’re glued to your MP3 player.

Also, the MP3 player has become the lifesaver for boredom. Throw in a boring teacher or a lousy speaker and the MP3 player will instantly wear a halo. Instead of trying to listen to other people and, perhaps, try to stretch one’s attention span, it’s more convenient to just whip out the headsets.

Don’t get me wrong; MP3 players can also serve people well. In fact, I believe that its ultimate use is to be the last resort to save one’s self from deafening silence or immense boredom (for example, waiting for plane-boarding or six-hours-and-longer bus rides). But aside from situations similar with those aforementioned, the MP3 player should be put away.

By the way, in my class, whenever we wait for the professor to arrive, my classmates almost don’t talk to each other because they’re glued to their MP3s (or cellular phones or PSPs). Technology has gone too personal! Whatever happened to “Connecting People”?!

Bring a handy book instead of an MP3 player. Have enough courage to talk and smile to strangers. Picture these scenes. Isn’t it a better-looking place to live in?

-published at Mindanao Times' "To Live Out Loud" Wednesdays; Opinion Page

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