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An Iron Ranger's view: World needs a big dose of Digital Detox

During a recent trip to Fort Collins, Colo., I had two hours of wait time at both the Minneapolis and Denver airports. On the return trip, I had an equal amount of wait time. In order to pass the time, at each terminal, I strolled through the cro...

Cartoonist's view
(Angel Boligan / Cagle Cartoons)

During a recent trip to Fort Collins, Colo., I had two hours of wait time at both the Minneapolis and Denver airports. On the return trip, I had an equal amount of wait time. In order to pass the time, at each terminal, I strolled through the crowds of people who were sitting or standing in close proximity to each other.
But they weren’t talking.
Nearly all of them were fiddling with their digital equipment, totally engrossed and therefore isolated from everyone around them. Apparently they found Facebook, Twitter, videos, games, MySpace, etc., etc., etc., more interesting than human interaction. To my dismay, I observed thousands of people - strangers, families and friends - all isolated and ignoring each other.
On the drive from Minneapolis back to the Range, I couldn’t stop thinking about those digital zombies at the airport terminals. I thought about where this digital craze might take us. As I thought about the future of our digital society, my mind brought into focus a short story I read more than 50 years ago: “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster.
As I remember it, Forster was interested in the preservation of human relationships, and in his story he described the inhumanity of a society where almost all of the people in the entire world lived underground. Each person lived alone, isolated in a room filled with screens, buttons and switches. People didn’t interact physically with anybody (just like at the airports). They spent their entire lives communicating their ideas digitally to other humans.
In Forster’s society, the duties of parents ended at birth. Children were raised by the machine. Muscular or overly intelligent youngsters were destroyed so they couldn’t cause future trouble. When the surviving children reached adulthood, they were assigned underground rooms somewhere in the world. The machine took care of all their needs. They worshipped the machine. Their bible was called the “Book of the Machine.”
So is this where the digital craze is taking us? From having looked at the digital airport zombies en masse, I have begun to believe our society is heading straight for the kind of society Forster predicted. And I think if Forster were to walk through the terminals with me, he’d say the same thing.
Because of my observations at the airport terminals, I became more aware of the rapid developing and marketing of digital equipment. There’s something new almost every week. For a few days after my trip I kept thinking sadly about my beautiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so full of life, having to give up their humanity for the worthless life of Forster’s digital world.
Then on June 1, I read an article that gave me hope for the future. The article was titled “Connected Travelers Seek Digital Detox on Vacation.” In the article, social-media expert Andrea Vahl was quoted, saying, “The really high-power users (of digital equipment) are unplugging … and intentionally taking digital vacations.” I thought that explained the article perfectly.
“Digital Detox” then implies that many intelligent and introspective people are coming to the conclusion they are spending too much time in the digital realm and not enough time interacting with other human beings or enjoying their surroundings. So these people deliberately leave their digital equipment behind and, for a while at least, try to behave like people who are fully warm and human instead of behaving like cold and removed-from-life digital zombies.
I’m going to watch and I’m going to hope that the Digital Detox movement spreads and overcomes the escalating digital fanaticism that seems to be leading us down the road toward Forster’s underground cities.

Joseph Legueri of Gilbert is a writer, retired educator, lifelong Iron Range resident and regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

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