This Holiday Weekend, Be Your Own Search Engine

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Commentator Bob Greene laments how so many people seem wedded to some kind of screen — be it computer, TV or iPhone. He urges everyone on this Labor Day weekend to turn them off and tune out.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If you are not outside trying to see the meteors, commentator Bob Greene has a suggestion for how you might spend your holiday.

BOB GREENE: Labor Day weekend is upon us - summer's final invitation to us to disconnect. And you, you're probably on your cell phone, maybe one of those do-it-all phones. They've been advertised everywhere this summer. You know the kind. You can watch television shows on them. You can visit the Internet. You can play games. You can type e-mails to business associates. You can browse through funny videos submitted to public sites by strangers. Even if you don't have one of those phones, you can probably do most of the same things on your computer screen at home.

Allegedly, this is supposed to make you feel like a commodore at the helm of some majestic, invincible sea vessel with the world at your command. But it all makes me think of the title of one of the most forward-thinking books of the last 25 years. Published in the mid-1980s and written by an author named Neil Postman, the book was called "Amusing Ourselves to Death." That, more than anything else, is what we seem to be doing as we stare at the screens that engineers manage to make ever smaller. We tell ourselves that we're mastering the globe, surveying the richness of the planet.

But if a crane we're to pull out for a panoramic movie shot of us, what the director would see is millions of slack-jawed people gazing at sheets of glass or plastic, amusing ourselves to death - as we sit in our bedrooms, as we walk down city streets, as we pause in coffee shops. The technology was supposed to shrink the world, but the world is the same size as ever. What has shrunk is our window on that world. We have made tunnel vision somehow seem like an attribute worthy of our aspiration. The good parts of all of this, and there are many, don't need to be enumerated, at least not in these few minutes on the radio today.

The far-flung nudge that is available to us, the speed with which we are able to reach colleagues and loved ones, that's all real and has been expertly marketed. But what of the tranquilizing effect? What of the long-term drawbacks of inviting the world to endlessly bombard us on a screen 10 inches in front of our noses? You amuse yourself to death not in an instant, but over time, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. It's painless. That's the attraction.

The screens, as colorful and sharply focused as they are, are not life. You cannot stick life into your pocket or log it in a carrying case. Life ticks away while you peer at a vivid facsimile of it on that glowing screen, the screen that can become a ball and chain. There are at least a few, final gasps left in this summer. There's a big world out there and you don't need a keypad to access it. If you haven't done it in a while, put the screen away. Be your own search engine.

SIEGEL: Commentator Bob Greene is the author of "And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship."

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