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Reflections May 2017

Sam's Side

Did Texting Sink the Titanic?

By Sam Beeson

I have been accused of being able to take almost any subject and twist it around to find a Titanic connection. I think that’s nonsense, personally, but let me tell you what the Titanic and cell phones have in common.

On any given Friday, you will likely find me and some of my friends having breakfast at one of our favorite diners. Like a lot of older people, we enjoy our breakfast meetings where we point out the world’s problems and solve many of them. We then ask about each other’s families, joke with the food server, and laugh quite a bit. In other words, we communicate.

The guys that I have breakfast with are my closest friends who have known me since high school. We all grew up together. There is little that we don’t know about one another. Even so, we never fail to have a conversation.

A few weeks ago, my friends were unable to meet me for breakfast. So I went to a different diner in the downtown area that I had heard good things about. Sitting by myself in this new place, I proceeded to people-watch. Nothing had really caught my eye until a group of ten young women entered the diner. I would guess that most of them were in their later teens or early 20s. They seemed to be “chaperoned” by two older women, but older only in relation to the other eight. They themselves couldn’t have been parental figures to the younger women.

After the diner staff pushed some tables together, the women all took their seats. Suddenly, as if choreographed and on cue, each one pulled out their cell phones and started texting, checking Facebook updates, or whatever else people use their phones for…except making phone calls. No one seemed to be doing that.

Internally I smiled sadly. I thought about the state of interpersonal relationships today.

These young women were missing an opportunity. I looked down. I was startled to see my own cell phone in my hand. Now to be fair to myself, I was alone. I was not ignoring anyone to check my latest Facebook updates.

So I looked back up at the table of young people. Without knowing for certain, it seemed like all were engaged in conversations via texting. Two of the women seemed even to be texting to each other. One would text and look at the other who was sitting across the table. The other would check her phone, smile and look back at her.

That’s when it occurred to me that the art of conversation isn’t dead, it’s just evolved. I remember years ago when most everyone started using email as opposed to letter writing. There were some lamenting the passing of the written word in letters. However, I remember thinking that email was the greatest thing since the remote control. Writing letters was time consuming. I could now communicate almost instantly with anyone, anywhere.

I must digress for a moment. I have written before about my obsession with the Titanic. I have been accused of being able to take almost any subject and twist it around to find a Titanic connection. I think that’s nonsense, personally, but let me tell you what the Titanic and cell phones have in common. A myriad of small things conspired to sink that ship. One of them was the novelty of the wireless. The wireless crew was not employed by the ship, rather, they worked for the Marconi Company, the inventor of the wireless. So passengers flooded the wireless operators with largely meaningless messages, all because it was a new technology. Several ice warnings were never relayed to the bridge because the wireless operators were swamped with their paying customers’ messages.

So I thought that maybe texting is the equivalent of the wireless of 1912 – currently something of a novelty, but simply another form of conversation. Now I still believe that texting at the table is wrong, but I will concede that not everyone may agree.

If texting existed back when the Titanic set sail, I wonder if the lookouts in the crow’s nest would have been texting instead of looking out. To hear James Cameron tell it, they were busy looking down and watching Jack and Rose. Still, a precautionary lesson can be learned here:

Don’t always look down. Look up, talk to each other and enjoy the view. It’s also a good way to avoid icebergs.

 

You can reach me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or follow me on Twitter @samiambeeson.

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