Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 28, 2012

Is living virtually really living?

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

BATESVILLE — Remember when the movie “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” came out in 2003 and we all thought it was science fiction?

Fast forward nine years: Way too many people are beholden to their handheld tech devices.

I don’t like it at all.

I first noticed the shift when I stopped at a Starbucks for my favorite mocha at a Cincinnati shopping center.

A few years ago, the shop had cozy easy chairs, inviting customers to relax and chat.

Now it looked like a new age classroom. There were small high-top tables in rows. Two persons were seated at each, either looking at a laptop or smartphone.

But definitely not looking at or talking to each other.

It was eerily silent.

A few weeks later I was back in Cincinnati at Jungle Jim’s Cooking School, taking the class “Wok Should I Make for Dinner?” which was taught, oddly enough, by a British woman. One of my recent goals was to learn how to cook Chinese because I really think I could eat that cuisine five nights a week.

I was engrossed in the magic of adding dried “wood ear” mushrooms to warm water and waiting 20 minutes so they could plump back up (and, more importantly, discovering where to find them in that vast store) for the recipe Braised Chinese Vegetables With Tofu when I glanced to my right.

Two sisters who did not look like sisters were not watching the instructor or adding tips to their recipes.

You know what they were doing.

Texting.

So even though the young women were physically there and even though they did sample the dumplings filled with mushrooms and corn, bananas in coconut cream and three other dishes, mentally they were gone.

My suspicion that many people around me are leading virtual lives, getting all of their information from computers instead of the real world, was confirmed when I read an article about a recent study.

Scientists have learned that most persons who answer e-mails while sitting in meetings don’t really absorb what happened at those meetings.

In other words, persons proud of multitasking may not be very good at it.

What I worry about, though, are the younger generations who aren’t truly experiencing life.

They are looking at photos of mountains on their laptops instead of actually climbing one.

They are obsessed with the game FarmVille instead of planting and harvesting fresh produce they can savor.

They have online friends with whom they share intimate details.

People they have never met face to face.

When I am telling you a secret, I want to be looking into your eyes for some kind of reaction. Anger. Sympathy. Laughter.

I want to hear your voice, not read typed words that have no inflection.

I know I’m old-fashioned, but I question how close these cyber relationships are.

If my car broke down in the middle of the night and I was stranded on a highway’s shoulder, would one of my virtual friends come to my rescue?

Doubtful.