Several weeks ago I received an advertisement asking me to, “Join us for a celebration of Latitude Wireless in your community.”
It went on to boast I was now, “One step closer to freedom.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Invading a community with cellphone technology is not something I find cause to celebrate.
In fact it should raise disturbing questions for individuals and communities.
Today we are led to believe we are more connected, wired and linked than ever before.
But in fact, we are more disconnected from the events, circumstances and people that really matter. The new cellular technology is likely to pull us even further apart.
In the 1970s television came to Haines Junction and immediately began to fracture the spirit of this place. With its technological promise to connect us to events throughout the world it, in fact, isolated us from our nearest neighbours.
Community potlucks and movie nights lost attendance as folks hunkered down at home to “experience” a world they could no longer touch firsthand.
In 2000, Robert Putnam wrote a book titled Bowling Alone. His message was a very simple one. As technology continues providing us with such innovations as televisions, computers and cellphones, “we are getting lonelier and lonelier.”
We are, he maintains, becoming a socially isolated species.
He points out that this social isolation inevitably leads to a “rise in crime rates, our generosity shrivels, drug and alcohol dependence increases, and death comes sooner.”
If Putnam’s argument is close to being on target, finding reason to celebrate Latitude Wireless here in Haines Junction is going to be difficult for me.
Putnam’s solution to technologically induced social isolation is equally simple.
“We can solve this problem fairly easily by simply getting more involved in our communities and spending more time with family and friends.”
He even suggests something as simple as “having a picnic.”
While many skeptics will dismiss Putnam’s work as naive and simplistic, I think we should take him seriously.
Our communities are in trouble. They increasingly fail to carry out one of their most important responsibilities: connecting residents to one another.
As we embrace wireless as the way to “bring us one step closer to freedom,” it is essential for us to think about the loss of freedom that seems to follow technology as well.
In her excellent film on the life of photographer George Johnson and his Tlingit culture, Carol Geddes brings us close to a native people who were once deeply connected to the clan and therefore to each other.
It was through this connection that the Tlingit maintained their relationship to the spirit world.
The Alaska Highway severed that connection.
As the highway opened up the North, it all but closed down native culture.
Young children had the most to lose. They were soon isolated in residential schools away from their parents and grandparents.
Today all young people are being increasingly isolated. Their addiction to cellphones is not helpful.
Cut off from the counsel of older people — more so than any generation in the history of civilization — our children now cling to cellphones with the false hope it is only through new technology that they can both hear and be heard.
Without a hands-on connection with parents and grandparents children are left to counsel one another on the difficulties of growing up.
This blind-leading-the-blind approach to well-being has caused our young people to underestimate, oversimplify, and neglect the responsibilities they should be assuming as members of a community.
Naturalist Henry David Thoreau once remarked, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but religiously follows the new.”
Cellphones are the “new.”
They are seemingly indispensable and all powerful.
They have replaced the “old”: family picnics, potlucks, movie nights and long evenings around the dinner table.
We buy contraptions, including cellphones, as our way of making life easier, better, more leisurely. We somehow believe we are saving ourselves from something or for something when we embrace new technology.
But from what and for what are we saving ourselves?
Until I have answers to these questions, I will not join in on the celebration of wireless technology.
I still enjoy the “hard work” of dropping in on my neighbours. And I find great joy in looking into the eyes of people I chat with.
Call me old fashioned, an old romantic if you will, but I sense that soon we will realize the newer technology may in fact be the wool blanket and the wicker basket.
Hand me a ham sandwich would you please. And I will take another deviled egg as well.