Last weekend my wife and I had a very strange encounter with a gentlemen at a fast food restaurant. We had a very busy day up to that point, and it all had started a bit backwards, but after getting everything done that we were trying to do for the day, and having gone to Mass later in the day, we were a little bit worn out and ready to relax. Neither one of us wanted to cook, so we went out. Both of us had been together for most of the day, and had been working hard, together or apart.
My wife and I were both on our smartphones, on social media, e-mailing, and otherwise interacting with the virtual world of the internet. This is when the gentlemen we met entered the picture. He began by asking us the day, the time, and some directions, and mentioning that he was walking across the country.
Okay, that sounds cool. If that's the kind of endeavor you wish to embark on, it sounds like one that could be filled with interesting experiences and expanded vistas. It's not for everyone, but hey, have at it.
Then he proceeds to lecture my wife and I on how we are looking at our phones and not concerned with the real world. He tells us stories about people have died by being on their phones and not paying attention to the real world, and how people don't have real relationships anymore. He tells me specifically that I will probably lose my wife if I don't pay attention to her instead of my phone.
For a brief instant, I thought this might be an interesting conversation. I don't mind someone disagreeing with something I am doing, so long as I have a chance to present a counterpoint. I briefly started to discuss how I probably talk more to my daughter, sister, and a friend that is living in England for school through social media than if I weren't using it at all, and he quickly began to talk over me and began lecturing me on how talking to someone via text or Facebook wasn't having an actual relationship with them.
Essentially he told us that if we really cared about people, we would find a way to go visit them in person, and that we should restructure our lives to be able to do so.
Now, I'm not going to say that none of what he said lacked resonance in these modern times. We don't make as much time to see the people we care about as we should. We are too materialistic, and we do dwell on things that aren't important. However, his absolute bold lines don't quite fit the reality of who I am.
I am not an outdoorsman by any stretch of the imagination. I've had bad allergies and sinus problems most of my life, and while they are less devastating as an adult, I'm still not inclined to spend too much time out of doors in the summer time, for fear of contracting vicious sinus headaches that render me unable to function. This led me to have a lot of "indoor" interests, like comics, video games, books, RPGs, and the like.
I do have "real" friends, people that I have met in person and that I regularly see, and I have met many of them at the local game store. Because of work and family and other obligations, I can't be at the game store 24/7, nor would I wish to be. On the other hand, I have only one person at work that regularly games with me, and he doesn't work in the same department.
In other words, when I talk about games, comics, sci-fi movies, fantasy, etc., it's not something I can do with coworkers, the way other people might do so with sports or sit-coms. There are places in the world where the things I like and the things that interest me are not alien, but I primarily access those places by utilizing the internet.
I know what it is like to be a geek that is isolated from geekdom. I don't usually go into this much personal detail, but when married to my first wife, I had almost no one to talk to about anything geek related. I had no friends that were still around, I had no coworkers, and she certainly wasn't geek oriented in her interests. It was an isolated feeling that made me feel as if I was some kind of aberration. I wasn't normal.
Since I have been able to use the internet, be it forums, Google+, or whatever, to communicate with others, I have been more comfortable with being who I am than I have ever been in my life. In fact, the friends that I met at the FLGS I would likely not have met if my desire to be a part of gaming hadn't been kept alive by the discussions I had online over the years.
It is true that people can spend way too much time online looking at ultimately worthless information. It is true that we don't make enough time for our loved ones and the people that really matter. It is true that we can be too materialistic and focused on what we want next and not thankful for what we have now. But much of that is human nature, and a refrain that has been repeated over the years by multiple generations decrying whatever is "new" in society.
Not losing touch with the important things in life is a constant battle, and not a battle that is won decisively, but one fought over the course of a lifetime. That doesn't preclude the use of modern tools to fight, rather than succumb, to that enemy.