By Leonore H. Dvorkin
There was an article entitled “Seven People in a Waiting Room.” The author, Jane Kronheim, bemoaned the ubiquitous use of electronic devices (cell phones and tablet computers) in public spaces. She expressed a longing for older-style communication among people in places like waiting rooms and cafés: casual, friendly chats about sports, holidays, politics, etc.
I submit this article in support of a contrary view. Although I myself am not a heavy user of such devices in public, my highly educated and tech-savvy husband (the author David Dvorkin) most certainly is, and I have gradually grown more accustomed to seeing such things in just about everyone’s hands these days. They are used by toddlers, teens, and adults. Even many elderly people like and use them, as I witnessed theother day in my doctor’s waiting room; a man of at least 80 checked his smart phone and then chuckled merrily at whatever it was he was seeing there.
What might all those people be doing with those devices? Are they merely engaging in frivolous pastimes that do little more than cut them off from their neighbors? Most likely not. Here is a list of just some of the many things that people might be doing on their devices.
– Reading the news, perhaps from all over the world, not merely what is printed in the local newspaper. There are a great many foreign periodicals that are translated into English every day and published online.
– Getting the local weather report. With a special app, the seeker can find a weather report on his or her specific neighborhood, not just the metro area. The app can also give up-to-the minute warnings of things like coming storms, high winds, flash floods, smoke from nearby fires, and much more.
– Doing homework, on any level from kindergarten to graduate school. Even if a student is not taking an actual online course, many teachers on all levels now assign homework that must be done online. Our son, who has a PhD in Bioinformatics and is a biomedical researcher, does most of his work on his computer, and he sometimes has to work more than 80 hours a week. I cannot imagine that he does not take advantage of every spare moment to work if he is required to wait for some long period of time in a public place.
– Filling out online applications: for jobs, college, you name it! Likewise, the person could be writing or updating his or her résumé. Or perhaps the person you see perusing his or her screen is reviewing the qualifications of prospective employees and is about to send an e-invitation to an interview to some fortunate and grateful recipient.
– Reading magazines or books. My husband and I now do the vast majority of our news reading online. In addition, we love our Kindles for reading novels. Amazon allows downloaded e-books—many of which are very inexpensive or even free—to be read across all the devices that one might own: a Kindle e-reader, a computer, or a smart phone. The program keeps your place for you, so that whenever you access the book that you wish to continue reading, on whichever device you choose to access at the moment, you are taken right to where you left off. You can also adjust the type size and screen brightness, as well as engage the text-to-speech feature if you wish. Earbuds or headphones allow youto listen to text or music without disturbing your neighbor.
– Writing email, articles, or even whole books. My husband is the author of 27 published books, and he’s hard at work on number 28. He often has his iPad or larger laptop with him, and if he has a long wait somewhere, he either reads or writes. Of course he will answer if anyone speaks to him, as he is never rude, but he prefers to be as productive as possible. He has zero interest in discussing things like sports with strangers. We also have a thriving business editing books by other authors; David often works on one of those books if he has the time to do so when out in public for long periods of time—such as when waiting for his car to be serviced.
– As for cell phone use, most younger people text. Sure, they might be writing something very superficial, but plenty of face-to-face chats are extremely superficial, too. Let’s not pretend otherwise. However, those people who are using their cell phones to text or telephone might be engaging in important communications indeed, even vital ones, with friends, family members, colleagues, employees, or employers. The observer has no reason to assume that the communication is frivolous; it could be quite the opposite. The person might be announcing the birth of a baby, responding to or communicating the news that a loved one is gravely ill or has died, responding to the offer of a longed-for date or job offer, finalizing the plans for a wedding or a funeral, or dealing with anything else that life throws his or her way.
These are just a few of the many useful and important things that people might be doing on thosedevices. The people are very far from dissolving and evaporating, as Ms. Kronheim put it. Instead, they are engaged and present in ways that could not have been imagined just a few years ago. In fact, research tells us that people are reading and writing far more than they were before such electronic devices became common. To quote the author Anne Trubek: “If anything, we are in a golden age of writing. Most Americans write hundreds if not thousands more words a day than they did 10 or 20 years ago. We have supplanted much talking and phone calling with texting, emailing, and social media.” (From an article by Sarah Begley, TIME Magazine, Sept. 12-19, 2016, p. 24.)
I can certainly attest to the validity of those statements. I write at least a dozen emails every day, some short and some quite long, to my friends, relatives, students, and editing clients in many states and various countries.
Every Friday, I use Skype to give an English lesson to a woman in Tokyo. Since the advent of e-books, I’ve been reading many more books every year than I ever did before. David and I also use Facebook and Twitter, and we both have blogs. Of course, the torrents of junk email that we both receive every day can be beyond annoying. But overall, we feel that the many positives of our various electronic devices far outweigh the negatives. Obviously, we have plenty of company!
About the author of this article:
Leonore H. Dvorkin is the author of four published books (both fiction and nonfiction) and many articles; her articles are mainly on the topics of fitness and nutrition. She and her husband, David Dvorkin, have lived in Denver, Colorado since 1971. Leonore works as a tutor of four languages, a weight training instructor, and an editor. Since 2009, Leonore and David have edited some 30 books by other authors, most of whom are blind. They assist the authors in getting the books self-published in e-book and print.