Don Gale: Don’t let technology interfere with social vitality

(AP Photo/Andy Wong) Commuters wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus browse their smartphones inside a subway train in Beijing, Feb. 10, 2021.

Binkies. That’s what cell phones have become – binkies for adults. We visually suck on those rectangular pieces of plastic, but like baby pacifiers (binkies), cell phones provide little nourishment – social, intellectual or cultural.

In fact, according to recent studies, cell phone binkies actually inhibit social development. Apparently, humans do not learn to get along with and appreciate other humans via electronic exchange. Social growth requires face-to-face interaction.

Some binkie addicts avoid conversation by “texting.” They use flying thumbs to semi-express themselves. But thumb-thrusting through the alphabet is not the same as sitting down with a friend to search for common understanding. Many “texters” lazily rely on shortcut acronyms. But a flippant LOL does not convey real emotion. It’s more like a lazy thumb brush-off. And those ubiquitous emojis – remedial shortcuts for those suffering from weary thumb disease. There’s no need to smile or frown or grouch in person – just hide behind an emoji.

Only an illiterate binkie fanatic could have invented such communication atrocities. They’re like the stick figures ancient hominids left on cave walls in case future travelers might come along. Humans eventually developed language because cave emojis did so little to advance civilization. Emojis say, “I saw your message, but you are not worth a meaningful response.”

Binkie dependants use their gadgets to avoid social contact. Apparently, they fear confronting friends and strangers at the grocery store, the clothing store or the restaurant. They avoid human contact by ordering electronically and having goods delivered by Amazon apparitions (soon to be drones).

Money has been binkie-ized. Financial exchange – even the purchase of a fast food soft drink – is transacted through cell phones or credit cards. Direct deposit eliminates financial contact between employer and employee. Such practices prevent binkie-ites from learning basic concepts about the value of money.

As for those who seek intellectual nourishment, binkies offer only the illusion of wisdom. Yes, binkies provide access to whole libraries of information. But data is not wisdom. Data is only a precursor of wisdom. Wisdom is understanding data, organizing data, using data to solve problems. One acquires data. But one develops wisdom, often through intelligent conversation.

No matter how much one focuses on his or her binkie, it will never provide cultural nourishment. In order to understand culture, citizens must explore beyond the comfort zone of familiar art, music, literature, history and civic responsibility.

Studies indicate that binkie dependants who rely excessively on electronic gadgets gravitate to narrow sources of information and entertainment. They come to regard those sources as more reliable than other sources. We all do it, binkie-driven or not, but the electronic world makes it easier. No wonder the nation becomes increasingly divided into ideological camps with ever-narrowing horizons.

The advantages of binkiedom are undeniably beneficial. We can make phone calls, exchange images and leave messages with almost anyone anywhere in the world. Fantastic! And we can access data about virtually any subject (or individual) at any time. Amazing!

The danger is not from technology. The danger is in how we use technology. The danger is in becoming over-dependent on technology at the expense of social interaction. The danger is in forgetting that life’s greatest rewards come from other humans, not from pulses and pixels.

Put your binkie in your pocket. Take back your life. Move about. Smile. Say “hello,” especially to strangers. Cherish the time you spend with others. Never forget that above all else human beings are social animals.

Don Gale.

Don Gale, a longtime Utah journalist, remembers that his first computer, more than 40 years ago, had floppy disks and 16k of memory. Those were useful tools, not intrusive pests.