Electronic media on the rise

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It is not wise to stick one’s fingers into an electric wall outlet — or to play golf in a thunderstorm. Just a friendly reminder.

There is another danger from electricity that some experts say we’ve mostly ignored. Electromagnetic field radiation emanates from almost every electrical appliance and live electric wire, especially from high voltage lines. You probably don’t lose any sleep over it, though.

And don’t forget that little gadget you carry around with you that contains a microcamera and screen, which soon enough will track your movements and record your every activity. This should save the FBI some cash, should they ever need to follow you.

Parents of children under age 2 are being warned to limit the time their tykes spend in front of televisions, computers and video games, since they provide no educational benefit for them and easily retard their growth. There are new apps for smartphones, though, that tally a baby’s every burp and sniffle, and that tell parents when to change diapers, what and when to feed them, and lots more. Next they’ll be telling parents when to wink at little Nellie and how.

Today, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, younger Americans are said to be more self-absorbed, less empathic, and hungrier for approval, absorbed in the rituals of social media. New Mexico youngsters aren’t like this, of course. They’re out climbing mountains and hiking wilderness trails — aren’t they? We old fogies, besides, are just as wired as they are. Fully 60 percent of those between 50 and 64 send and receive text messages, and 19 percent of those 65 and older do so, probably looking forward to the day St. Peter text-messages them to enter the pearly gates, where God will call them on their cell phones to proceed.

People have spent just as much money on cell phones, Internet service, and cable television since the recession as before it began. There’s a new mobile phone technology out, in fact, that’s become very popular. It’s called “driving a car.”

Many use electronic media to avoid the pain of loneliness, which writer Henri Nouwen says causes us to seek “unrealistic desires for oneness, inner tranquility and the uninterrupted experience of communion.” Only if we “pay attention to our inner self” can we then be truly present to others. Being constantly on-line leaves no time for all of that personal stuff.

There is nothing inherently bad about social media. Just the opposite, it has created great opportunities to connect and for cultural expansion. Social media have even been used in Mexico to alert people to dangerous locations of violence that are induced by the drug wars there.

Electronic media, despite the hype that they’re good and the charge they are bad, are neutral in themselves — just as with the weather, there is no such thing as a “bad storm,” or a “good day,” no matter what the weatherman says. It’s what we decide to do with media — or the weather — that determines their value.

But many today create so much personal data — status updates, text messages, phonecam pictures, and the rest that they almost never go back and look at it all. It’s just too much and, taken as a whole, it is often used to avoid that meaningful solitude we need. It’s like cramming belongings into a closet (like we used to do?) and hardly again opening the closet door.

So Facebook can be a great tool, if we use it to increase face-to-face contacts. Too often, though, it is used to be sociable without the awkward reality of real-life contact. We promote ourselves as happy and likeable, to feed our narcissism and exhibitionism, leaving us with the illusion of intimacy, but instead causing even greater isolation. “Like me” on Facebook and look at my cute pictures, so I won’t have to worry that you’ll notice my baggy pants or smelly breath.

Our gadgets will be gadgets — we can’t avoid them. Using them to avoid real-life contact, though, won’t help me be real — unless I decide to be tossed into the closet myself.

Kozeny has worked as a teacher, counselor, and in pastoral ministry. He can be reached by e-mail to tkozfreespirit@netzero.net.