There used to be a time when a telephone was a device that people only used to talk to each other. It was a revolutionary invention and it changed the world forever. But technology does not stand still and we now have devices that are called phones, but they have really become a focal point of people's lives.
The Internet and all of the related technological changes that have altered the nature of human commerce are blessings and curses at the same time. I think most people have come to realize this. Some of us will never embrace technology that is anything more than a telephone and others can't imagine life without their iPhones.
There are many parallels to medical technology in the world of communication. Many life-prolonging procedures and devices are considered marvels, but we may not have yet come to understand the ethical and moral implications of these new wonders.
We can keep a 95-year-old person "alive" for an indefinite period of time using all of the tools in an intensive care unit, but should we? Is oxygenation of blood enough of a criteria to consider that a life is worth living? We have to address the quality issues as well as the alive-at-all-costs issues, but we have not done a very good job of that.
We also have not come to understand the proper place that new phone technology should play in our lives. Should a reasonable person drive a car and talk on a phone if it means there is a chance they will
Mobile phones have made people believe that they can't wait 10 or 15 minutes to talk to someone, that they have to talk right now because it is so important. The only time that a phone should be used while driving is during an emergency and even then a person should be able to stop or at least pull off the road before making a call. How many people have been maimed for life or killed because someone thought that a phone call was more important than paying attention while driving?
The promise of technology was that it would make people's lives simpler and that they would have more time for the really important things. What has really happened is that the use of technology has become the important thing, the focal point of human activity. We have lost our perspective and there may be no turning back.
Last week I was sitting in the stands during a Red Sox game at Fenway Park trying to enjoy the game. Watching baseball can be one of life's pure experiences, especially sitting in a 100-year-old ballpark that is so beautiful and so steeped in history and tradition. It was a warm spring night and all was right with the world.
Then I started looking around. I would estimate that at any given time during the game, that of the 50 or so people in my immediate area, 40 of them were on their multi-function phones at some time during the game. A few were talking, most were texting and some were taking pictures.
One lady a few seats down from me went into a temporary panic when she realized she couldn't find her fancy phone. She immediately jumped up and raced to the ladies' room and returned much calmer with her phone in her hand.
Those people tethered to their phones must have missed at least 50 percent of the game. It is hard to imagine how someone can really enjoy a baseball game when they constantly feel the need to check their e-mail and text their friends.
It is also hard for me to imagine how someone can enjoy their life and come close to living in the moment when nearly everything they do relates in one way or another to their phone. Maybe people will figure out how to put these devices into their proper context.
If not, we will continue to deal with more depression, more fractured relationships and more people who have lost the ability to connect with the most important aspects of life.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.