Liddick: Generation Tweet: Distracted and deadly
Pity Joseph Johnson. The poor little tyke never had a chance.
For those of us who have forgotten already – or skipped over this news in the rush of daily life – Joseph Johnson was left to drown in the bathtub while his mother, Shannon Johnson of Fort Lupton, went to play a game on her Facebook page. She is 34 years old. Joseph was just over a year.
Her excuse for leaving him alone in the bathtub while she engaged in the game of “Cafe” was that he was “a very independent baby” who “wanted to be left alone.” Pardon me?
I have a grandson and a granddaughter around that age, and neither have, while splashing about in the tub or elsewhere, ever looked at me and – in words or otherwise – expressed the Greta Garbo sentiment “I want to be alone.” They’re far more interested in the waves, bubbles and soap crayons. And even if either had … just who’s the adult here? Properly nurtured, an infant or toddler hardly has the capacity to recognize the dangers inherent in many everyday activities. That’s why God created parents. And that’s why Ms. Johnson’s abrogation of responsibility is so monstrous.
But hardly without parallel. Scarcely a week passes without news of someone talking or texting while driving or even walking, with unfortunate results. And while recent viral video of a woman falling into a mall fountain while walking and texting was hilarious, her lawsuit against the facility for its failure to protect her against her own stupidity was less so.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cell phone use in autos kills about 6,000 of us a year – a figure that continues to climb rapidly as the mania for constant contact spreads.
In a less-deadly but no less illuminating category of electronic malfeasance, a recent survey revealed that 90 percent of those polled thought it was wrong to text a third party while having sex. But only 76 percent of adults think using the Internet while do so was inconsiderate. Think about that for a minute.
From where did this dysfunctional and sometimes deadly obsession come? How did it seize so many people’s minds and souls, making them addicts to the ability to be in constant contact with anyone they wish, 24/7/365 (366, once every four years)? There are undoubtedly multiple sources – convenience, thirst for information, a tingle in the gossip nerve – but in the end, they all boil down to one thing: vanity. The idea that one has hundreds of friends, willing to hang on one’s every word, is a seduction to which many fall victim, occasionally – as in Joseph Johnson’s case – with a tragic outcome.
The plain fact is that everything one does is not intrinsically interesting to everyone. But the rise of social media and the proliferation of this means of instant communication work to erase judgments about the distinction between the inspired and the mundane. When there is immediate access to everyone loaded into a cell phone, friended on Facebook or following one on Twitter, there seems little distinction between what one had for lunch and possible solutions for Fermat’s last theorem. While a few use social networking to pursue the latter, the former is far more prevalent.
Fear of isolation and its twin – being seen as an outsider – push the constant use of social media; the addiction to being part of things imposes an irresistible pressure to reach out and touch someone; anyone. A common estimate holds that teens send and receive about 50 texts a day: confirmation of one’s existence at pennies per line. Solitude, meditation, time for self-reflection may be free, but for Generation Tweet, they’re not worth it, whatever the cost.
If there are concerns that these conveniences, anxieties and vanities create personal and social pathologies similar to those exhibited by adolescent cliques and spread them across broad swaths of our culture, they aren’t much in evidence. Worries that electronic “friendships” will both replace the real variety, with serious negative consequences, aren’t either. Nor is disquiet about long-term social effects of emphasizing the rapid, the ephemeral, the superficial and facile over the deliberate, the introspective, the demanding and the profound.
Instead, people gush about the new “connectedness” and the myriad possibilities offered by the faux friendships of the world of social networks, and rush to embrace the brave new electronic reality. “Second Life” is real life, only better. “Cafe” is just like one on the Rive Gauche. Rush in and get a good seat…
Too bad Joseph Johnson was crushed in the stampede.
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