‘Distracted Living’ Can Destroy Relationships, a Career, or a Life

By Woody Jenkins, Liberty Today.

WASHINGTON — Samuel Morse sent the message “What has God wrought?” from the old Supreme Court chamber in the U.S. Capitol Building to his partner in Baltimore via telegraph in 1844.  He soon extended his lines to New York City.

Western Union was founded in 1851 and by 1861 had built a transcontinental telegraph line.  Telegrams flew from coast to coast at the speed of light.

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell said, “Watson, come here!  I want to see you!” into his telephone, and Watson, who was in the next room, could hear him over the telephone line. A new means of communication was born.

In 1915, Alexander Graham Bell, who was in New York City, once again spoke into a telephone and said, “Watson, come here!  I want to see you!”  But Watson, who was in San Francisco, replied, “It will take me five days to get there now!”

“Instant messaging” has been around a very long time in America and is, quite simply, nothing new.

In 1860, the first fax machine — called a Pantelegraph — sent a fax from Paris to Lyon, France.  In 1924, AT&T’s fax machines were used to transmit political convention photos long distance for newspaper reproduction.

In 1946, the first mobile telephone company opened in St. Louis.  By the early 1960’s, mobile telephones were common throughout the United States.  In 1971, AT&T submitted a proposal to the FCC to create the first cellular telephone service.  It took the FCC 11 years to approve the application.  Government delays are nothing new!

Today we have cell phones and various mobile applications.

Isn’t it wonderful?

Well, yes and no.  It is wonderful that brilliant men such as Morse and Bell invented the telegraph and the telephone.  It is wonderful that other brilliant men invented the fax, the mobile phone, and the cell phone.  It is also wonderful that you and I don’t have to be geniuses to use these devices.

In fact, we don’t have to know much of anything to use them!

In 1861, you could scribble out a message, run down to the Western Union office, pay your money, and the message would be miraculously sent across the country.

I wonder if people in those days thought they were “high-tech” because they could scribble a message?

After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, people who could not read or write at all could speak into the telephone and be heard around the world.

I wonder if those people thought they too were “high-tech”?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said recently that distracted driving caused 5,800 deaths last year alone.  People are driving down the road while listening to the radio, arguing with their passengers, eating junk food, putting on their makeup, and texting on their cell phone — all at the same time!  Then they have a fatal crash and the lives of innocent people are destroyed.

But, as horrible as distracted driving is, it is just the tip of the iceberg.  We are in a society where a great many people are living what can be described as “distracted lives.”

They cannot focus on anything or anyone.  They spend most of their waking hours “multi-tasking” — doing multiple things at one time.  Multi-taskers believe they can handle it.  In fact, they believe they are more efficient and competent than ordinary folks who do just one thing at a time. Now, scientific studies are showing that “multi-taskers” actually are terrible at what they do.  They have slow reaction times, absorb little of what they are exposed to, and generally accomplish little.

The irony is that their brains are telling them just the opposite.  They think they are brilliant — perhaps as brilliant as the men who invented the technology they are enslaved to.

In the 19th century, most children worked with their parents on the farm.  They were with adults many hours each day and absorbed their parents’ values, their heritage, and their knowledge.  Then families moved to the city, the children went to school, and the parents went to work all day.  But they all came together in the evening and enjoyed dinner and family time together.

When television came along in the 1950’s, things began to change rapidly.  At first, the TV was only on for only a couple of hours at night, so everyone could watch their favorite programs.  But dinner was still family time, and real communication between the generations occurred.

Then television began to intrude on meal time, and the television set became a constant companion.  People spoke less and less to one another and were fixated on the television set more and more.  Teenagers began to talk for hours on the phone every night.  By the 1990’s, cell phones and the Internet emerged, and the distractions accelerated.

Today millions of Americans spend hours each day on Email, texting, Facebook, MySpace, iPods, and cell phones.  Often they do this during work time, family meals, and study time.  They ignore the people around them — often people they are supposedly meeting with — and ignore the task at hand, in order to respond to the latest frivolous, unnecessary message.  People think they are being “high tech,” but they’re not!  They’re simply having conversations or playing games.  Posting on Facebook or sending an E-mail or a text  message is no more complex than scribbling a note for Western Union in 1861.

The distracted life is a superficial life, which is often devoid of real relationships.  It is inefficient and often downright rude.  It can easily sacrifice what is good and real for what is imagined and superficial.

The distracted life can also cut people off from real accomplishments by allowing them to function far below their capabilities.  Employees who bring their distracted lives to work can destroy a business, a Congressional office, or even our national security.

I think of Pvt. Bradley Manning, accused of compromising tens of thousands of secret government documents.  How could his co-workers be so oblivious to someone stealing such a vast quantity of classified data?  The answer: Well, his co-workers thought he was listening to a Lady Gaga CD everyday, but in fact he was copying secret documents to his CD-RW everyday!

So here’s the bottom line: Manning’s co-workers were so busy living their own distracted lives at work that they did not think it at all unusual that someone would spend his days listening to Lady Gaga music disks while doing his work.

I suppose there’s nothing odd about turning over the nation’s secrets to a 22-year-old Army private. But apparently someone at DOD was distracted when it came to working out the security protocol.  The portals on DOD computers were disabled to block copying to a thumb drive, but they forgot to block copying to a compact disk!

Isn’t it time we limit the distractions and focus on the person we are with or the task we are supposed to be accomplishing?

Shouldn’t our heads be in the same city as our bodies?

Living in a state of perpetual distraction is far more dangerous for our society than distracted driving.  It will create a generation of superficial nitwits who are convinced they are high-tech geniuses.

In the dangerous world we live in and with the awesome challenges we face, it will only take one such generation — or less — for America to lose everything our forefathers have given us.

By Woody Jenkins, as published in the March 2011 issue of Liberty Today.  www.liberty-today.com

Copyright 2011 by Woody Jenkins


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