Big discovery or frightening fact?

Big discovery or frightening fact?

Texting each other at dinner

A headline in the Straits Times of 21Mar16 caught my eye. It said “Virtual world is no substitute for the real one”. It took my breath away. Is this something new and if so why? We are able to see all the wonders of the world on our screens. Most of us have about 100 years in which to explore some of them. Even if we don’t have much money we can explore what is nearby. Have we really just discovered the importance of the real world? Wow!

I pondered this as I went for lunch in a delightful restaurant in Singapore. It was crowded, full of families enjoying their Sunday brunch. At the table next to me were father, mother, grandma, married daughter and her husband and her two younger siblings still in late teens.
After the food was ordered all of them except grandma took out their smartphones and began that search we now see all the time in every situation – the search for happiness. And from that moment on for the rest of the meal there was silence. I caught grandma’s eye and we smiled at each other, her smile a little sad, I think; mine, I hope, was sympathetic.

Do these people know what damage they are doing to themselves, to their other family members, to society at large? Do they have any idea how important communication between parents and children and between younger and older people is? Have they thought about how civilisation came about and the part played by words and speaking to each other?

It would seem not. What I saw was a ritual Sunday brunch performed with little love and to be got over as quickly as possible. It sent a message to the others present like “I really don’t have time for you, I am not interested in you or what your interests, joys and problems are and I wish I didn’t have to sit here at all”. Don’t they know this is called a family? Have they not learnt from history how important the family as a concept was in building the various dynasties and regimes that formed today’s political and real lives? Don’t they care?

Mind you, every cloud has a silver lining. From the point of view of our business a world full of dysfunctional people is guaranteed to give us work for a thousand years. It might even make us some money. But we are not here to make money. We are here to help make a viable, happy society and seeing so much work that needs doing is daunting and frightening.

Progress is made by small but determined steps. How about agreed downtimes – especially meals – for Facebook and smartphone games? If you have young children out at a meal get them to invent stories about the people sitting nearby. Not stories about bankers and dentists but about spies, and vampires. Teach them to ask questions as the only way to become properly educated. It is natural for children to ask questions. Encourage the culture.

Above all, let everyone become alert and observe the real world around them. Let them deduce ideas and forecasts from what they see. Let them prepare themselves for what is yet to come.

If you don’t I shall release three tigers in Orchard Road.

That’ll make you alert.