Technology can prove a barrier to meaningful interactions

It seems every generation has more and more technology to master.

I can still remember when a neighbor of ours got a color TV. I was invited to come over early one Saturday morning to watch cartoons. When I went over at 6 a.m., I was kindly asked to come back at about 9, and when I did, we watched Popeye, Tom & Jerry and Foghorn Leghorn in living color.

I never really thought that was all that great, myself. I didn’t figure out why until years later, when the doctor said I was colorblind, but that’s another story. I also remember the first time I saw a TV with a remote control. I worked at Lazarus in Washington Square.

I was the guy who worked in the auto pickup. They said, “Be sure to keep up with the remote.” I quickly discovered that the remote would work from around the corner, behind a curtain and even when I was scrunched under a chair in the corner. Amazing, I thought.

I also remember when we were going to sell a telephone at auction; my dad had it in the car and picked it up and acted like he was talking on it. People just stared and laughed.

We’ll pop forward to children of today. Millions of people have access to any knowledge they want to learn about right from their telephone. Smartphones are truly amazing. However, just like everything, amazing things have some cons as well.

One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes went something like this: “You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet!” Yes, I found that on the Internet one day. More and more kids and people want to find justification for their actions and do so by research on the Internet.

As parents, we need to teach our children to respect this luxury. I truly love the fact that my baby girl can get in touch with me in an instant. However, I also know I have to trust she is not going to use the tool and set herself up for disappointment or evil. We always think it is never going to happen to us, but daily, we see where worthless predators prey on children and take advantage of their innocence.

There are other downsides to modern technology. It is the unfortunate effect of the modern technology information age that, though it has undoubtedly brought people living halfway across the world closer together, technology has also led to less interaction between people. Machines and technology are conducting those services that previously required human communication.

One of the advantages of advanced technology is that it is meant to simplify our lives by reducing the number of tedious tasks to be performed. I think we need to keep in mind that some of those tedious tasks are actually quite beneficial. We need not to lose track of this. I have noticed many simple tasks that it appears many people lose track of.

Too many of our youth have no idea how to shake hands firmly. This means they lose concept of the importance of eye contact. They have difficulty or no ability to tell time on an analog clock with hour, minute and second hands. The idea of quarter till or half past is mind-boggling to them.

And how about mental math? The point is, we can’t always rely on technology to save us, and we can’t let our brains go to rot because we have machines to do our thinking for us.

The basic, simple skills of math, money, balancing our checkbooks, staying on budget — these are things we should know how to do, with or without magic machines. We need to make sure our kids know how to count back change. It is surprising the number of kids working the concession stands at the schools who have absolutely no idea how to count money.

Same thing happens with many young adults at a store if the machine doesn’t do the task. I know debit and credit cards are the thing, but I still think our society needs to understand the basic concept of using real money.

MapQuest is amazing, but sometimes, it just does not work right. We all need to understand basic directions.

It’s always nice to know how to read a map as well. Sometimes that old woman in my telephone knows how to get to a location, but I’m sharp enough to know that I could save about 20 minutes and 20 miles by taking a few basic steps on my own. She also will send you on a wild goose chase on occasion, too.

What’s problematic is that we often look up and recite information but don’t actually absorb it. It’s easy to look up something, but we just check it out and forget it. I think we had to go to such lengths to learn things in the past that we remembered them.

Now, we just look it up over and over because we don’t really learn it and therefore don’t expand our knowledge base. I try to memorize what I learn.

You’d be surprised at how much you can remember when you just focus.

Basic skills such as writing out a note or knowing how to spell seem to be going away. Why in the world would we not want our children to know how to write? Spell-check is a great tool, but it has totally spoiled us in learning to actually spell. Maybe that’s why our schools want to quit teaching writing because kids spell so badly, you can’t read it anyway.

Remember when you memorized a person’s phone number? Well, many kids don’t do that anymore. Again, I think it’s just one way we don’t use our brain.

We are living in a community so focused on the convenience of life that people don’t realize they are losing basic social skills. They’ll lack deep thinking capabilities and face-to-face social skills. Digital technology can be used for good or bad; sometimes, we need to unplug from technology and plug into the present world around us.

Wayne Addison is chief probation officer for the Hancock County Probation Department.