How Can They Do That…?!

By Jim Selman | Bio

I got another shot of what has been a curiosity to me for a long time: the growing practice of ‘texting’. This practice was highlighted for me when I read that Barack Obama has to kick his Blackberry habit in his new job and again when I was at the theater earlier this week with an audience of mostly 20 and 30-year-olds. Both before the curtain and at the intermission, I counted about 30 folks fixated on their ‘mobile communication devices’. Several were even covertly ‘peeking’ during the performance.

I don’t think I am a Luddite, yet somehow this seemed to me to be not only rude, but also a bit ludicrous. I watched myself falling into a kind of judgmental ‘old person’s’ conversation along the lines of “Don’t these kids know that they are missing the point of going out for a pleasant evening…blah blah blah.” I clearly had a point of view based on my experience of growing up and was looking down my nose at this new practice in much the same way my father probably viewed my obsession with the telephone when I was growing up.

The question I am reflecting on is whether I’m stuck in an age-based and narrow interpretation of what is and is not appropriate and ‘healthy’ behavior or whether I have a legitimate and valid point of view that has nothing to do with ‘the way it used to be’. In the case of more and more people spending hours locked into their devices, it seems to me to be an important conversation, like whether our kids watched too much television.

I don’t have an answer, but I have a theory about why it is happening. Most of my life and work has been about trying to show how our culture (paradigm) is based in the Cartesian notion that human beings are objects—things that think. I have pointed out that when we have this assumption, then we must invent psychology as the theory for explaining how the ‘thing’ works. We’ve inherited a whole worldview of human beings as ‘information-processing machines’, replete with metaphors of our brains as hardware and our ‘minds’ as software. This worldview sees organizations as networks in which ‘nodes’ are stimulated by incoming messages, and so forth and so on. As this relates to the practice of texting, we have conceived a theory of communication based on sending and receiving information.

If we follow this interpretation, then it is inevitable that we invent tools and practices for processing more and more information at ever-increasing rates. In other words, I am suggesting that ‘texting’ is just the latest extension of the idea that people are ‘things’ and that communication and relationship is just about ‘transactions’. At the end of the day, we are evolving into increasingly competent information processors. But in the process, perhaps we are losing a great deal of the emotional and spiritual substance that makes life worth living.

As I pursue my commitment to building more authentic and ‘human’ relationships with younger people, I need to learn to include and allow this practice as a natural extension of the past and not invalidate it as the ‘wrong’ way to live or communicate. I have certainly gotten ‘hooked’ on email, so why not ‘texting’? Nonetheless, there is not only a need for balance, but also a need to maintain the most fundamental quality of humanness—the capacity to choose. When we lose the capacity to choose, we are addicted … and then we lose ourselves, as well as the possibility for creative self-expression and (even) love.

So from me to those who follow—snding u msg 2 call when u can.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.