This darned Skype thingy is so handy

As an old fogy, I’m supposed to hate all these smart phone, iPod, BlackBerry thingies that so intrude into our public spaces, private conversations and – God help us – stalls in the restrooms in just about any restaurant in town. And I do.

But I confess it’s developed into a love-hate relationship. And I hate that, too.

I have been subject – haven’t we all? – to the spoken-out-loud minutiae of people’s lives in grocery stores, movie theaters and waiting rooms. I have braked hard on the freeway to avoid a swerving car whose driver is distracted by his cell phone conversation.

I have been startled in an elevator when the only other occupant begins speaking loudly and in an exercised manner. In the one second it takes me to realize he has a Bluetooth apparatus in his ear and that his words aren’t meant for me, my heart has skipped a beat and I’m wondering if I need to Tase him (if only I had a Taser).

I have been bumped into on the sidewalk by pedestrians whose eyes are riveted on some handheld device as their thumbs are texting faster than their feet are moving. And, finally, I have come close to yanking the wires out of the ears of a person whose head is being directly infused with sounds of his choice at decibel levels I can hardly imagine but whose attention I have failed to gain through conventional means of communication.

Even at dinner with my son in Seattle a few weeks ago, he deftly removed his cell phone from his pocket several times during the meal to check the identity of an incoming call and then put the phone back into his pocket without skipping a beat in the conversation. I admired the smoothness of this ability, developed from a lot of practice, I assumed, but I did find it intrusive. I let it pass because, well, he’s my son, and because I know he has a friend in crisis and would need to respond immediately if needed.

But I have also been at lunch with friends, only to have conversation stopped more than once so that a call can be answered. No, the incoming call isn’t to alert her that the donor heart is now available. It’s always about some little something, friend calling to chat, etc. If we were sitting at her kitchen table, fine, but at a restaurant, what’s wrong with turning the darn thing off for an hour? Generally speaking, in public, don’t people realize that they’re not under an invisible soundproof bubble and that some pretty revealing things are being overheard by a lot of strangers?

But then again, annoyance over changing technology is hardly new. We lamented the decline of the art of conversation when televisions appeared in our living rooms in the middle of the last century, and we regularly show resistance when our old and familiar ways of doing things are upended, no matter what they are. Still, we always take advantage of new ways to communicate, sometimes reluctantly – though I am concerned that we are in fact becoming more and more isolated as we replace, not enhance, real-person interaction with virtual conversation.

But here’s what I’ve also found. I am so much better connected to family and friends who live far from me. I’m not a Facebook or Twitter person, but I am a person who has renewed and maintained many friendships through e-mail. I know that without the Internet, we would have slipped away from one another, and I would so regret that.

I am also in much greater contact with my older son through Skype, which allows us to talk to one another via computer for free. He lives in Portugal, and prior to Skype it was hard to connect by phone, not to mention expensive. And our computers even alert us when the other one is online, so we know when we can call. How cool is that?

Sure, I’m an old fogy who laments the grace, ease and privacy of in-person, living-room conversation and the lost pace of life which nurtured it. And, yes, I worry that we get so caught up in the technology that it becomes an end unto itself, that we are so busy multitasking that we are becoming numb.

But then again, I am so happy being able to stay connected easily to people living across the continent, especially hearing my son’s voice from across the Atlantic any time I want to. It’s technology that facilitates all of that.

It’s progress, and there’s no fighting that. I hate it and I love it.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists.

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