The computer age ... help or hindrance?

Dec. 6, 2010
By Steve Gross, Kevin Ohlendorf, Mark Ohlendorf, and Dr. David RothmanIn 1964, Bob Dylan wrote, “The times they are a-changin” and it applies just as much today as it did then. However, we're not sure if we’re changing for the better or worse … or if it’s just for the sake of change. More often than not, electronic communication is useless blather — transmitted via e-mail, text, instant messaging, or social networks — that takes time to sort through and prioritize. We’re told to embrace this form of communication because it is “the future.” However, the more we become involved, and the more “reply all” messages we are privy to, the more our days become filled to overflowing with information that compromises action. In the old days information was king. This was because only a few people had access to it. Now, everyone has access to all information, all the time. On the World Wide Web, there is no such thing as privacy, confidentiality, or down time. Don’t get me wrong, the Web is a wonderful tool for improving education and literacy, increasing the ease of commerce, and developing and improving relationships and communications. But it does exact a price.Of course, the business of dentistry relies on personal relationships. Development depends on personal social interaction and a tight network. That’s why we get together at the meetings and communicate with each other face to face. Therein lies the key point: Face … to ... Face.We are not alone in believing that the Internet (especially social networking sites) promotes alienation and isolation rather than the interaction it professes to facilitate. Thomas Friedman, author and columnist for the New York Times, wrote that the world is shrinking and thinks it is for the overall good. What is missing amidst so much electronic communication is the personal cues and innuendos that are so vital to human interaction.Will our children learn how to communicate face to face? Will they ever learn to spell or add? Will they miss the smell and feel of a book and the art and satisfaction of searching for and discovering a definition? Will they ever have to travel to the library to do research, or will they do it all from their comfy chair in their isolated room, thus bypassing the critical learning of valuable social skills? We are always on call. “Crackberries” and communication devices deny us the down time and breathing room that are essential to overall health and creativity. Our business and social lives are now intertwined 24/7. Remember when it was cool to wear a pager because it made someone look important? Now, for better or worse, we all have a cell phone. There goes coolness, and any semblance of peace and quiet. Even when your phone is turned off, everybody else’s isn’t. Remember when you waited for the mail, received a letter, and had a day to think about what you were going to write in response? No more. Answer immediately or fall behind … or be immediately misconstrued (or disregarded).We are not advocating a return to The Dark Ages. But how about advocating a little moderation, especially for the youth of today? We all need time to be a kid.Coping skills, downtime, and emotive imagery are important concepts in the developing psyche. This is not a diatribe on the demise of civilization and relationships as we know them. It is a plea to give ourselves more time to be physically with those around us, to enjoy proximity and closeness that is not merely an electron linkup. Are you guilty of putting your cell phone on the table next to you at a restaurant as you wait for that next message? How many times an hour do you check for new tweets, e-mails, or text messages? What and whose reality are you a part of?The more “linked in” we are, the more we run the risk of alienation, and the more we distance ourselves from our surroundings and people in general. As a group with common interests, concerns, and wishes for oral health, we can benefit significantly from the rapid diffusion of information available on the Internet, but we also need to find the middle ground between informational access and actual involvement with those we serve.