It may have all started when we were able to pump our own gas. Gradually, there was no more interaction with an attendant.
Then came the ATM machine, and we could do our banking in the privacy of our own car. More and more homes were built without front porches. No more chatting with the neighbors as they walked by. In fact, no more walking. People retreated indoors.
The personal computer brought the world indoors as well. We could reach out across the globe without shaking a hand. We could shop in cyberspace and purchase anything we could afford. The cellphone evolved into the smarty-pants phone and permitted us to communicate with one another without sharing physical space, making eye contact or opening our mouth. Today, the e-device is our personal remote -- and that's what we have become.
The irony is rich. We praise this technology as a means to get closer, stay in touch and maintain relationships. At the same time, we are cursed with the advent of cyberbullying. We can rip one another to shreds without lifting a hand -- only a couple of thumbs.
Texting has become another drug of choice behind the wheel of an automobile, leaving a trail of harm. All of us are curators of our own photo galleries. Bad behavior can be digitally captured and circulated worldwide. But worse, camera phones are now voyeurs that invade personal privacy and spy on behavior that is perfectly legal but nobody else's business. It's all become a new form of recreation and entertainment.
We're convinced that, in years to come, research will conclude that today's technology -- social media in all its manifestations -- brought us together and also set us adrift. We're connecting with one another using abbreviated phrases that often convey prattle, not thoughts or ideas. The photos of sunsets and flowers and babies are gradually being replaced with "selfies." With our e-devices, we are the stars of our own show. We hold tightly to our micro-machines because they convey our courage, judgments, biases and preferences. Our devices have become our social proxies.
When email first appeared -- which now seems a long time ago, although it was only the early 1990s when it truly got a foothold in our world -- it was a wonderful tool for communicating with many people all at once. Who could argue with doing away with all that memo paper and envelopes? Over time, however, the technology has become less a work utility and more a distraction from work. Today in many places, phones of any kind are banned from offices and classrooms.
Are we just being cranky? Perhaps a little. But look around you and see how many people are disengaged with the here and now as they gaze into their window on the world and flip through evidence of life in other places.
Let's institute some perspective. Dad and mom, try this little experiment. Put the family cellphones in a drawer for one day, then gather around the dinner table that evening and ask each other: How did your day go?
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of the new book "Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers." Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at dads2dadsllc.com. Contact them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com.