Kinder and Gentler Gadget Use

recently came across a column by Lewis D. Diuguid in the Kansas City Star entitled "Gadgets too often stop us from enjoying life." Mr. Diuguid recounted many moments in which he found tech intrusive: a man distracted from being in the moment with his wife in the movie theater, checking emails on a smartphone; parents talking on the phone in the car, ignoring their children; board meetings where devices left open on the table make annoying noises announcing the arrival of new messages.

Writing about these constant interruptions and distractions, Mr. Diuguid asks that we "put them (devices) to the best possible use for ourselves, our families and this community." In other words, he wants us to stop and think before we take out a smartphone or other device when we are in a social setting.

So where do I stand on this issue? I love technology but Mr. Diuguid isn't wrong here, especially as he gently admonishes us to interact with each other in person as much as we can. I've run into these situations myself. Out with a group of friends I rarely see, a couple spent time distracted from conversation, checking for texts from their grandchildren. Out to dinner, one couple I know constantly takes calls from their children. On the beach, someone is always conducting business in a loud voice when others want to relax.

I recently noticed that digital gadgets were isolating as soon as digital music players became popular and my teenage children had them. Now, when we took car trips, they wouldn't complain as much. However, car time was the time when we really talked. We played car games and interacted, and they got silly and it was fun. Now we had nothing but silence between us.

A friend of mine who still has a teenaged son, says his son doesn't go out to ball games with his friends. Nor does he go over other kids' houses to watch the game on TV. Instead he sits at home and watches alone, sometimes on TV, sometimes on some other device, but interacts with others during the game, texting. Is this isolating behavior? I really don't know. Something is changing in the way we interact with others.

And in some ways this change is very, very good. I've written before about how the iPad can help the isolated elderly and disabled keep in touch with others. It certainly helps me. I don't like to "sit on the phone" but I'll write a quick email to let someone know I've been thinking about them or I'll update my Facebook status to reach out to my extended network of friends.

Everyone here knows that I am a big proponent of technology. There is nothing I like better than being able to download a book at a moment's notice, use GPS to find where I'm going, or consult Google to figure out an answer to a question I have.

However, as Mr. Diuguid reminds us, "gadgets come and go...What counts, what must endure are relationships we forge with one another."