On my drive to work this morning, a sports radio talk show host warned his presumably largely male fan base that Valentine’s Day was coming soon. Not to fear, he argued. If the holiday has caught you off guard, he claimed he still had the perfect gift that every woman would love. He summed up his advice in two words: “power down.” He counseled his listening audience that, if they hadn’t yet had a chance to find a good gift for their loved ones, they should turn off at least one or two of their cell phones, Blackberrys or PDAs.
I found this suggestion somewhat remarkable. I usually think of Valentine’s Day as a day of giving in the traditional sense. There are chocolates and flowers and cards. In fact, another famous sports radio host, Dan Patrick, has been helping promote my traditional vision of Valentine’s Day by hawking “Pajamagrams” on his show for the last few weeks. Instead, this morning I was encouraged to give something up. I was told that Valentine’s Day should be treated like another holiday just around the corner – Lent. I was told that a good expression of my love was to turn off my technology.
Now, I have been teaching students for years that the technologies they use will change their relationships. I often tell them that when I first started teaching, students would chat with the person sitting next to them as they walked out of the classroom – often, probably, to complain about me or the class. Today very few students engage in such conversations. Instead, many of them turn on their cell phones and finish making plans with friends on the other side of town or letting their parents on the other side of the country know how they are doing. I’m not a technological determinist. I know cell phones don’t force us to ignore the person sitting next to us. But they certainly are a temptation that few can resist. And I do think that if you truly want to engage with the person in front of you, you need to cut off your electronic ties to people farther away.
Nevertheless, I was amazed to hear this basic lesson I teach in the classroom being broadcast across the airwaves nationwide by a radio host who, presumably, has not taken too many “Technology and Society” courses lately. Have the technological distractions really gotten that bad in our country? Is powering down these distractions increasingly seen as a strong act of commitment and love? I am not sure whether to be excited or depressed by this finding. It is disappointing to think that something as simple as turning the ringer off a cell phone could be a symbol of undying love. And yet I am heartened by the idea that Americans are reflecting on the ways that technologies can impact our relationships.
For the record, this coming Valentine’s Day I will be powering down my cell phone, my e-mail and sports radio. I’ll even be turning off my television, despite the fact that I am a big race fan and I’ll miss the Daytona 500. I certainly value my ability to connect with friends, family and the rest of the world through my technologies. But I also value my ability to exercise some control over the temptations those technologies instill in me.
About the Author: Jameson Wetmore is an assistant professor at CSPO and ASU’s School of Human Evolution & Social Change.