Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of papers. Here’s today’s “Reality Check”:
Knock Knock. Who’s there? The Interrupting Sheep. The Interrupting Sh—-BAAAA!
That joke is guaranteed to cause all five-year-olds to collapse into fits of laughter—once you explain it to them, of course. And the best part is that there is an endless array of barnyard animals you can use when the sheep lose their appeal. The Interrupting Cow. The Interrupting Horse. The Interrupting Pig. You get the drift.
What really bothers me, however, is not the intrusion of the occasional farmyard occupant, but rather the everyday intrusions of technology. I have never figured out, for instance, why the telephone should take precedence over face-to-face interactions.
Let’s say that I’m relaxing with my husband. We’re chatting, or laughing, or enjoying a movie together, and the phone rings. Why answer it? I am doing exactly what I want to do; I am spending quality time with the man I love. But inevitably that ringing causes us to jump to our feet, endure a momentary panic as we try to ascertain the location of at least one of our three portable phones, and then abandon each other for the urgency of technology. Even if it’s actually a friend or a family member, why should that person rob me of time with my husband? Yet inevitably one of us ends up chatting, and our time together is lost. I figure the measure of true friendship is when you can tell a caller that you don’t want to talk right now because you were busy doing nothing. You’ll get back to them when you’re done.
I once had a university professor who told our class that he never answered the phone. To him, a phone call was like someone interrupting your conversation. Instead, he installed an answering machine, and simply returned the calls he felt warranted his time. In general, he thought life would be better if people went back to writing letters. Then we’d only communicate if we had something pressing to say.
Perhaps he has a point. Over the last decade communication has gotten so much easier. Not only can we phone people; we can text, email, skype, or use internet chat. Just because the quantity of our communication has increased, though, doesn’t mean the quality has. Read the most common text message—WASSUP?—and you quickly realize that while we say a lot, we’re just creating noise. If you had to mount up a horse and then ride for an hour before you could deliver a message, you’d make sure that message was vital. Today, we throw out so many messages because it’s easy. Then we become so addicted to this instant reach-out-and-touch someone that it makes us stupid. Last month nineteen-year-old Jonathan Parker was arrested for burglary in Pennsylvania because after rooting through the victim’s jewelry box, he decided to update his Facebook status. And he left his page open on his victim’s computer.
Now I’m not a technology saint. In fact, despite my abhorrence of being interrupted, I do my own fair share of interrupting others. I’m a Twitter addict. I use Facebook. I wade through hundreds of emails a day. But sometimes, every now and then, I just want to sit on the couch and cuddle with someone I love without hearing the phone ringing, or without having to subdue the overwhelming urge to check if something new is in my inbox.
We live in an interrupting world, and sometimes I wish everybody, altogether, would shut up, just for a little while. Imagine how peaceful that could be.
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