The Digital Journalist
Do Not Connect Me, Please.
June 2007

by Ron Steinman

"Exhibitionism will exist as long as there is voyeurism."

"Now you can share your life over a mobile phone and someone is always connected, watching."

Do either of these quotes address the overriding need of our young to be in touch all the time at all costs?

Some define the use of cell phones as self-expression. Others call it the need for public performance. Whoa.

This is really about commerce. It is really all about the money. Your money. My money. In our advertising-dominated society, nothing else is true.

Another executive recently said, "We are in the business of helping people stay in touch with the people who are close to them." Did that executive ever have a cup of coffee with a friend? Did that executive ever take a walk in the park with a lover? Did that executive ever have a meal where the cell phone played no role? Did this executive ever share a banana split, a bag of popcorn, and a seat next to someone in a movie theater who meant more in his or her life than a cell phone with its seemingly endless variety of uses?

The use of cell phones creates distance between people despite people believing they are closer because of them. There is no intimacy when you use a cell phone, in private or, especially, in public. When I enter or leave the elevator in the hi-rise apartment building where I live, it seems someone is always on a Blackberry or a multi-tasked cell phone. Absorbed tremendously, somehow these people are able to maneuver around other people who are heading toward or away from them. Be careful, though, to make sure you get out of the way of a Blackberry-wielding person on the move. When I say, "Excuse me, please," I get a look from that person that can kill. After all, I interrupted them. They are only doing what they think is natural. Tied to a machine the size of a cigarette pack is not my idea of something natural. It also signifies the loss of freedom, a condition those folk vigorously deny.

My plea is not complicated: Do not connect me, please. Unlike the legion of kids who inhabit our era, I do not want a connection with everyone in my circle, however small or large. Call this view narrow. Call it anything you want. I admit it is generational. I do not have the need to be part of anyone else's life all the time, except those I love, and those who love me. I do not want others willy-nilly, whoever they may be, to insert their selves into my life either.

Social networking is a great threat to privacy. Does that upset you, dear reader? I hope so. It makes surreptitious spying, a game once played with glee and a perverted sense of discovery, look like a second-grade effort to discover information a person wants to keep to himself or herself. Now no one has to spy as a spy once did. In today's world there are no longer any secrets. Twitter, Radar, Jaiku and soon many other new Web sites are there for cell phone addicts to use freely in an attempt to connect where once we never thought the need had importance. We live in a time of information overload. Please, no cheering. Hold your applause.

Here is a statement from an entrepreneur whose only desire is to sell advertising on your cell phone. "Kids want to be connected to their friends at all times." Really? I didn't when I was a kid. I had friends. We spent our days in the streets and backyards where we lived. We had no devices except those we rigged up for fun. Were we any less kids when all we had were waxed cords, two tin cans and a hope that we might hear our voices across the courtyard spanning our apartment houses?

I do not accept the theory that to survive in this world, where there is so much information, kids must have a way to get that information out of the minds of others and into theirs and yours, through computers, and now cell phones. I do not want to know everything about everyone. And I do not want everyone to know everything about me. In fact, I don't want to know everything about myself. I know that I am interesting. I know that I operate well in society. I am not an ax murderer. I harbor no nefarious thoughts. I know not everything inside my head is perfect.

This desire to share, by laying out one's intimate secrets, desires, and even soul, borders on the premise that you, meaning the rest of society, cannot get along without knowing what goes on inside my head, or anyone else's. That is nonsense. Kids today fear privacy because it means they have to face the person they are as they try to figure out their life and love, their sadness, their creativity. If I were a kid again, I would want some secrets about my life, my loves and hates, my fears and strengths. Honest privacy is good because it teaches a person how to survive on his or her own, sometimes a necessity in life, especially when one reaches adulthood, and you only have yourself to help you to exist. This new generation has what I think is fear of abandonment. That is why they spend so much time trying to stay in touch.

© Ron Steinman

Ron Steinman, Executive Editor of The Digital Journalist, is an award-winning producer of television news and documentaries. He was NBC's bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. He is also an author and freelance documentarian through his company, Douglas/Steinman Productions. Buy Ron Steinman's book: Inside Television's First War.