I drove to the campus of East Tennessee State University (ETSU) on Friday. ETSU is located in Johnson City. The purpose of my visit was to replace a dorm refrigerator in my daughter's room with a new one....one that actually works. Additionally, she wanted to be home during the weekend of "Mom's" birthday. It's only a 2 and 1/2 hour drive up and, after you get through the congestion of Knoxville, it's quite a scenic road trip. I arrived before my daughter had finished her final requirements of the day so I pulled the refrigerator off the back of my truck, loaded it on hand trucks and hauled it to a nearby picnic table under some large oak trees. It was 20 degrees cooler (at least) under the tree and quite comfortable. As I sat there, looking like the old man that I am, I began to notice a pattern on campus. I was sitting in front of the dorm and watched as the students hurried to their next class or to lunch....many were hauling out their laundry and suitcases to begin their weekend trip home. The campus parking lots were filled with cars so I expected a lot of noise with that many students around. But the campus was strangely quiet. While I saw a lot of students walking, with backpacks loaded, there was no chatter that I expected for a campus filled with young people. Instead the students walked alone and spoke softly into cell phones. At first I thought it was but a few students making plans for the traditional Friday night parties. But the use of the cell phone became more frequent. In fact, each and every student had one of these marvels of technology up to their ear. And to make matters more troubling, most of the students had their IPods in the other hand and were listening to music in the other ear. Strange, I thought. What happened to true conversation?
Now I have to admit I was trying to compare my experience of a college campus from 1976. This is a campus in 2005....some 29 years later. But do we not talk to each other anymore? Have we "progressed" so far that talking to a live person is no longer necessary? I can recall walking across campus for my 8 AM Economics class with several friends and always talking about something.....the date from the night before (if you were lucky enough to have a date or could afford one)....the latest Bruce Springsteen album (not CD, mind you).....the latest rumor that the Beatles were getting back together.....what band was playing at Mules tonight.....were we ready for the end of the week Econ exam.....how'd we do on the literature exam, taught by "Bloody Mary"......have you played the new Asteroids video game in the student center.....who put the laundry detergent in the fountain in Bear Gardens (or Beer Gardens as the students called it)........there was always something to talk about. Now granted, we didn't have cell phones or IPods....the best we could do was a nice 8-track or cassette player in the car (if you could afford a car), a great stereo system in the dorm room and a dime for the payphone in the lobby. And you didn't have the luxury of compact discs....everything was vinyl and these albums were stored in stackable peach crates. I guess we had no choice but to talk to each other. How ancient, I thought.
My concern about the whole experience is the loss of social interaction, among students today, because of our technology. Once out in the "real world", will these young adults be capable of having a converstation around a meeting table? Will they be able to discuss problems from last night's production run on the evening shift? Will they have the necessary tools to actually function socially? Will they be able to come home from work and talk to their spouse (or significant other....this is 2005, you know) about their day at work?
Time will tell.....or tell on us!
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