A Tree Is Falling in the Forest: Is There a Hashtag for That?

HashtagLast week I had the pleasure listening to Canadian blues artists Rick Fines in Burlington Ontario.  Rick Fines is a tremendous talent, he sings the blues like no other and through my good friend and editor John Gardner I have a real appreciation for the blues and Rick Fines.  It just so happened that Rick Fines was making an appearance in Burlington and John and I and our spouses made the trek down

A funny thing happened on the way to Burlington.  John and I made a pit stop near Brantford Ontario.  So as we were locking into the Tim Hortons we were almost bowled over by a few female teenagers who were concentrating on looking at their smart phones.  They were walking down the sidewalk almost to the front door with their eyes transfixed on their latest text, tweet or Facebook update.  At the last minute, maybe sensing an old guy around, the teenagers recoiled and excused them for not looking where they were going.  Disaster was averted or at the very least a little embarrassment on their part.

So if a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around does it make a noise?  I don’t know.  However, those teenagers might as well be in the forest because they had no idea two old guys like John and I were even in the neighborhood.  I thought it was a telling indictment of society, which seems to have a terrible addiction to getting immediate information, no matter how mundane it is.

I would like to say I don’t get it.  However, I think I do.  My problem is I am not young anymore.  There is certain titillation with Smartphone technology where people cannot put them down. In fact many people would rather receive a text versus getting a nice phone call.  I actually met one young woman in an Apple store in Detroit who wore a Bluetooth microphone while she was driving so she could use speech recognition technology called Dragon Dictation in order to text wirelessly while she drove.  So she would consistently talk out loud, which was turned into text messages, which then were sent through her iPhone.   She told me that this frustrated her because many of her friends would not pick up their phone; in fact they prefer to get texts.  So she had hooked up the technology to get that done while driving down the road.

To me that am extreme but that technology exists now where you don’t have to talk to anybody.  I had this conversation with my former college roommate who stopped to see me over the weekend.  His partner told me that he gave a task to one of his staff to write a letter as part of his work.  This person was a very young person but could not write a letter because they had not been exposed to that in their day-to-day life.  However, he could jot down short bullet points, almost like twitter messages of 140 characters.  My friend was exasperated by this and told him older people would not understand.  My roommate chimed in by saying he is growing increasingly frustrated because nobody wants to talk on the phone anymore or have a face-to-face meeting.

Needless to say, this is not a rant about how we need to go back to the way we did things in the old days.  Instant information is almost ubiquitous now in our modern society.  For instance our economy depends on it and many of us grow so frustrated when we can’t get things done now.  It almost makes the old days of the long-distance landline seem like something from the Flintstones.

Having said that, real communication is almost a lost art.  For instance, I regularly make cold calls to find out information about farm machinery and other information I may need to write magazine articles.  I really enjoy it.  It always involves introducing yourself, telling the person why you are calling and eventually saying something to the effect that I hope that they can help me.  I just don’t send them a text, hoping they send me something back.  To be fair, there is usually money involved which makes it much more serious than just saying “hey”.

So is there noise when the tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around?  I’ll have to think about that.  I’ll also have to think about whether this constant need to be “connected” in 2011 makes the world go around.  I’ll take two hours of listening to great blues music by Canadian artist Rick Fines any day versus tweeting, texting or updating Facebook.  I just hope those other people can hear that tree crashing down.

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