Sometimes it's disconnecting that connects us

This opinion column appears in the Daily Journal March 15th edition. Give our opinion with a comment below.

The Mississippi House of Representatives last week passed a bill that, among other things, prohibited the youngest teenage drivers from sending text messages while at the wheel. Many legislators actually voted against it, perhaps fearing the ire of their children.
This is probably not quite what Bob Dylan had in mind when he sang defiantly to parents in the 1960s that “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.”
It is a lamentable sign of another round of changin’ times that anyone would object to telling 15- and 16-year-old drivers that they can’t perform a two-handed function when at least one of those hands should be on the wheel. But such are our electronic addictions these days and our twisted notion of what “freedom” entitles us to do. Put the lives of everyone in your path at risk, not to mention your own? Hey, don’t tell me what to do in my car.
The only logical argument against banning texting for the youngest drivers is that it shouldn’t stop there. But you can forget about going up the age ladder.
As for simply talking on cell phones while driving, there’s little chance in this state for that to be outlawed, either.
Who hasn’t had at least near-miss experiences with cell-phone-fixated drivers oblivious to everyone around them? Or, if we’re honest, how many of us have found ourselves distracted in our own cell phone conversation and suddenly realizing, by our own near-miss, how risky it is to ourselves and others?
In an amazingly short time – barely more than a decade – instant access to everyone, an uninterrupted connection with anyone at anytime, has come to be viewed as an essential of daily living. How did we live when we weren’t constantly available to everyone, and everyone to us?
A bit better, one might argue. We had time to regroup, reflect, and disengage for a while. A ride in the car might be the only time to escape the busy, stressed-fill demands of everyday living for a little quiet solitude. Now increasingly the expectation is that no one’s time is his or hers alone, that it belongs to everyone, that I have the right to demand that you be instantly accessible to me, and you likewise to expect it of me.
Sure, I can turn the phone off, but I know that the evolving ethos is that it’s considered rude to go too long without responding to another’s demands on my time.
E-mail long ago (comparatively speaking) sped up the expectation of a quick turn-around response on business and personal matters. What seemed an advance in efficiency has turned daily communication into a much more time-consuming and often stressful experience.
But perhaps the most significant way instant access, at all times and in all places, is changing the culture is in transporting us out of the moment and the place where we are. We are so busy talking on the phone in every conceivable public and private place, text-messaging, e-mailing, Facebooking, Twittering, Web chatting and otherwise communicating with people somewhere else that living in the moment – “being here now” – is rapidly becoming a lost art.
For a people who are so “connected,” we still find communication at any level other than the superficial more elusive than ever.
Recently a couple of fellow Baby Boomers and I were discussing the migration of many of our age peers to Facebook, thereby messing up the cool factor for the young folks who made it theirs early-on. One of us – not I, much to the relief of my teenage daughter – is on Facebook. The other? “I’m looking for ways to disconnect, not connect,” he said, only half-jokingly.
This was a busy man in a demanding occupation who is wise enough to know the need for time to himself for recharging and renewing so that he can be there for people at home, at work, at church and in the community. He doesn’t dislike people; he likes them a lot, and he’s a warm, friendly person. But he knows his limits.
When we lose our ability to be comfortably alone with ourselves, or with the family member, friend, acquaintance or stranger right in front of us, and instead prefer the trivial minutia of so much of today’s “connections,” we have disconnected ourselves from a deeper awareness and appreciation of the life right around us – the here and now.
We can text all day, but can we have a meaningful conversation with the person next to us? If we have to hesitate with the answer, it’s past time to put that cell phone down and rest those thumbs.
Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.

Lloyd Gray/Daily Journal