"What we've got here is a failure to communicate." I'm sure many folks remember this memorable line, delivered by character actor Strother Martin in the 1967 classic film "Cool Hand Luke." And 52 years later, even with the advent of the internet and every imaginable electronic device under the sun, that's still a pretty good description of society.

I know, we're all connected via cell phones and all the information in the world is but a keystroke away, thanks to Google. But what price has it cost us when it comes to personal relationships and the art of socializing? Are we becoming electronically isolated?

My generation and those before me remember when family, friends, and neighbors actually socialized while seeing each other with the naked eye, hearing each other with our own ears, and being able to exchange handshakes and hugs. With communication being basically reduced to emails, texts, and social media postings, I'm starting to miss the old days. You know, those times folks came over to visit and sat on porches in rockers, swings, and gliders, and talked about what was going on in their lives. Who knew that would ever go away?

Don't get me wrong — smart phones are great when you need to get hold of somebody who isn't nearby. They act as GPS devices, allow you to look up anything in the world, give you access to social media, and so much more. But calls are being replaced by texts, which are quite impersonal, given that you can't hear voice inflections read body language, or look someone in the eye. Emojis do that for us now, when we want to express ourselves. Convenient? Yes. A trade-off? Yes, again.

And what about this artificial intelligence stuff, where you can plug something in and hold a conversation with it? The voices of Alexa and Siri are actually Big Brother that we're hearing. And he's listening and hearing all, and watching us via our computers and probably the TV as well. Let us hope that toilets never go electronic, right?

I readily admit that I've enjoy social media since retiring. That realm is like having your own personal bulletin board on which to post whatever you wish for everybody to read. It's also like a scrolling billboard of threads that become electronic conversations that all your friends can join in on, if they wish. You don't know who all sees it or who will add their two cents worth of cogitating at any given time, so I guess I'd call that apprehensive amusement.

I've heard people say they'd rather exchange texts than call someone or talk to them in person. They say it gives them time to think before responding and the chance to edit their thoughts before hitting the "send" button. If only live communication were like that, right? But it's not. For all it's worth, it is slowly building walls between friends and loved ones, and eroding our people skills.

If you haven't witnessed people sitting in the same room and texting each other yet, you soon will. Or family members at the dinner table, engrossed in their phones, rather than engaging each other in a real conversation — how about those? When is the last time you sat down to talk to somebody? And how long since you've written an actual letter and mailed it?

I'm not suggesting we throw away all this crazy technology, because it's mostly necessary and often fun and interesting. I guess what I mean is that we need to have a balance of that, plus actual human contact with one another. That'd be a real change, right? Just think of the youngest ones you know who have smart phones - they've never known a time when people didn't do most of their communicating electronically.

I'm being facetious, but it's like today's babies come out of the womb with their little thumbs twitching, just waiting for somebody to stick a phone in their hands so they can disappear into cyberspace.

Think about this — how many phone numbers do you have memorized? Less than the fingers on your hands, I'm betting. How many of you have paid less back in the day for a used vehicle than what you'd pay for a new smart phone with all the bells and whistles? I know I have.

So what we have here really is a failure to communicate, at least on a personal level. I wonder how much that will advance in the next two generations? "Progress," they'll call it. At least I'll be gone by then, over to the other side of what is becoming today's "great divide." And who knows? Facebook may have found its way to Heaven by then!


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