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Technology: the queen of drugs
by Jay Gutman
2015-10-29 10:23:40
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In the mid-1990s, French sit-com Fruits et legumes was about a family of 5: a father who owned a grocery store in the same building he lived in, a mother who split her time between waking her children up for school, cooking them breakfast, watching a few game shows and soap operas, chatting with her friends on the phone (sometimes excessively) keeping the house clean and cooking her husband and children meals. The three kids were an elementary school boy who had trouble reconciling playing with his friends (and sometimes fighting with them) playing with his toys and doing his homework, a high school girl who had trouble reconciling her feelings for boys, popularity in her circle and preparing for college, and an older but less present son (played by the then very young now international actor and stand-up comedian Gad Elmaleh) who paid occasional visits to his family.

techn01_400The sit-com revolved around the younger son quarreling with his older sister, the wife sometimes not being a very good wife and sometimes being a great wife, and the father’s joys and pains of running a grocery store. The father was very popular among some clients, who would come buy groceries but also share some of their problems. In one episode he helps an old but single man find a date, in another he mediates (although clumsily) for a couple who are frequent clients but always seem to argue.

In one episode his older son buys his father a McIntosh as a birthday gift. The younger son is excited about all the games he will be able to play but his father cuts his joy short by saying he will use the computer at the grocery store. The father closes the grocery store for a few days so he can install software that tracks all the products. He carefully counts every grocery store item and spends hours inputting the information in the program. He then has trouble keeping up with score, and some of his more frequent clients are surprised at how anxious, cold and distant he has grown, and are put off about how persistently and obsessively he is counting each product.

One day he realizes a jar of mustard is missing, he goes crazy and becomes suspicious someone might have stolen it. He closes his store again so he can count his products, before his wife reasons him by putting the computer in the trash bin. In subsequent episodes, the computer is on the counter, but covered with a napkin, and the father becomes the friendly grocery store owner he once was.

What this sit-com can teach us about technology is that it can turn once friendly people into cold-hearted monsters, just like any other drug would.   

The once friendly bar-tenders are now too busy playing games on their smartphones to chat with tired or heart-broken customers, the once friendly waiters are now saying fewer things so they can go back to chatting with their friends, and the once friendly bosses are now dumping tons of sometimes useless work on their subordinates so they won’t be interrupted while they catch up with their sit-coms or sports games. At the workplace, workers are competing with finding the idiot who will take up everyone else’s workload while everyone catches up with entertainment.  

Many of my friends are now responding the invitations to hang out like a heroin addict responding to a dealer when being told that he ran out of the killer powder. Hysterical rejections are replacing the once polite “I have this thing so maybe some other time” we once all used. I now can’t go on a date without my date finishing her candy crush level before she says hi to me, and can’t go have beer with friends without having a non-stop show of smartphone youtube videos that seem to have replaced conversation.

If you criticize your friends or date for spending too much time on their phones and tablets, you get the same reaction you would get from telling an alcoholic to take it easy on the drinks. It’s either “you’re a boring person” or “what would life be if there were no drinks” or “I’ve barely started drinking” or “mind your own business.” You rarely get an alcoholic telling you he’ll try to quit and if he can’t he’ll check into rehab, the same way you don’t have smart phone addicts (a scary percentage of the population) telling you they’ll try to go back to a simpler phone and cut technology time. With smartphone addicts as with alcoholics, it always seems that they think you’re “missing out on all the fun.”

Like crack cocaine in some areas of the United States in the late 1980s, you would be the weird one if you didn’t smoke crack cocaine. Fortunately local authorities and the government took quick action before preventing too many American to pick up the habit. Today, United Nations workers seem too busy playing with their smartphones to tackle the smartphone epidemic.

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