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March 28, 2006

Absent Presence

I've been traveling lately and continue to marvel at how different people are in terms of the physical and psychological space they occupy. For some reason, my mantra has always been "leave a small footprint." In places like airports, I have no interest in standing out - that's pretty adaptive, I suspect. But the guy sitting down the row from me in the departure lounge had a really different goal. He had one of those Borg earpieces on and was carrying on business conversations loud enough for everyone on our outbound flight to overhear. "Justice department ... blah blah blah ... attorneys ... blah blah blah... blah blah blah"

Then I noticed the NY Times story (Sunday 3/26) called "The disconnect of connection." "Does anyone really need anyone at parties anymore? Instead of working the room, guests are busy working phones and BlackBerrys, surrounding themselves with electronic entourages. Kenneth J. Gergen, a sociologist, calls this constant need to be in a technologically mediated world of elsewhere while in public 'absent presence.' " Thanks for the new word, Ken - it describes this situation perfectly.

I see this in my students too. They come into class plugged into iPods and cell phones. Then they open up their laptops (and I'm SURE they're paying close attention to everything I say and taking diligent notes). At the end of class, in go the iPods and up go the cell phones again. Now, I have nothing against iPods or cell phones - I have them both and use them. But we do seem to be missing what's around us. Those things that are "hidden in plain view" (as the mystics say) are never revealed to us, because we are totally absent to them.

Anyway, it's all very strange, ironic, and paradoxical - no solutions here, but lots of questions. The Time magazine cover story last week was about multi-tasking. What are we doing to our brains with all of this stuff? There's probably a price to be had, but we may not know it for many years. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my iPod and use my laptop and cellphone, but also be open to hearing the birds sing as spring arrives in Minnesota.

Posted by hgroteva at March 28, 2006 7:43 AM | Life | Technology