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Keep our 'human networks' working and not just our virtual ones: Checkup callers

Alec Cooper, a Quebec City family doctor, said although he embraces technology, he believes there is a downside to being constantly connected to our digital world. Brian Hirst, a retired structural engineer and self-described baby boomer from Montreal, called in to agree.
A new Parks Canada app that provides visitors with a digital audio guide for their ride. Alec Cooper and Brian Hirst take issue with technology that draws away from what they feel are valuable experiences. (Parks Canada)

With cities passing or contemplating distracted walking laws and the increasing capabilities of smartphones, some Checkup listeners are concerned about what effect that will have on our "human networks."

Alec Cooper, a Quebec City family doctor, said although he embraces technology, he believes there is a downside to being constantly connected to our digital world. Brian Hirst, a retired structural engineer and self-described baby boomer from Montreal, called in to agree.

Listen to their conversations with Checkup guest host Susan McReynolds, and scroll down to read the highlights of their comments.

Alec Cooper, a Quebec City family doctor, said although he embraces technology, he believes there is a downside to being constantly connected to our digital world. 5:01

Alec Cooper: I would consider myself an early adopter and a great enthusiast of computer technology,  network technology, internet technology, etc.. Part of it is my own scientific makeup, but it's also because of my personal circumstances. I come from Victoria; I left all my family behind there. I was in the military—moving all over the place—and as the Internet evolved, I really hooked onto that and started using it as a way to keep in touch with family spread all over the place.

AC: My summer reading is a book recommended by my dear old dad, who is a retired doctor in Victoria. It's called The End of Absence, by Michael Harris and I would highly recommend it to anybody interested in your subject. The book discusses the internet revolution and this constant state of distraction in which we're living. The fact is that we baby boomers are the last generation that will really know what it was like not to be constantly connected through digital devices.

AC: However, I've also embraced technology in my medical practice in that I've used email, Skype, texting. My idea was that this would enhance my contact with patients and make contacting them more efficient. What I've actually found is that [it] tends to be extremely distracting. I think we're creating a generation with attention deficit, if you will. Of people who are not able to deal with that with a large amount of information, say reading an essay or writing an essay.

Brian Hirst, a retired structural engineer and self-described baby boomer from Montreal, called in to share his belief that there is a downside to being constantly connected to our digital world. 4:05

Brian Hirst: I was in an engineering profession out West when wireless Internet was built 25 years ago. I was on the ground floor: building the towers, the radio transmitters, the little computer connections, and the wires that connect the wireless Internet to the rest of the Internet. Because of that, I'm alert to a couple of things that the general public may not be. When Hurricane Sandy hit Manhattan and it flooded most of the tunnels that carry cables and wires and even the subway through New York, it knocked out everybody's power supply in that whole high priced, high density, Manhattan area.  As soon everyone's wireless portable device ran down, there was no power to recharge it and everybody was suddenly lost because that was their one and only connection to the world around them. We need to keep our landlines, we need to keep our human networks working and not just our virtual ones.

BH: I am the son of a Swedish cross-country skier he took me on his back in the woods of Quebec as a two and three- year-old. He literally carried me through the forest at minus 20 with the trees creaking and the sound of silence. I'm a more acute musical patron because of that. People who are wirelessly connected, with ear buds in their ears constantly, are missing that human attention to sound, to the multitude of inputs that the human body evolved to sense. They are sensing only what the screen will provide them and I think that's a serious loss.

Brian Hirst's and Alec Cooper's comments have been edited and condensed. This online segment was prepared by Lisa Mathews.

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