I just returned from a short vacation to Mexico and Belize. I wanted to get away from it all. No ringing cellphone. No blizzard of daily emails.
An old friend teaches economics at a university in Belize. One afternoon, I sat in on one of her lectures. I was stunned to see, sitting next to me in full view of the professor, a student engrossed in Facebook. Even near the jungle where jaguars snatch people's dogs, there was no escaping technology run amok.
Were her parents paying her tuition? If so, her college "education" was an utter waste of their money.
I noticed similarly distracted behavior when I visited Fremont High School in Oakland a few weeks back to talk to some of the students there about journalism. One boy was sitting in the back of the room with headphones on, rocking out to the beat.
How on Earth can you learn anything when you're spending all of your time in class glued to social media? Chatting with friends, checking status updates, browsing through pictures and playing games? Or fiddling with a cellphone?
More important, why do teachers tolerate such rude behavior when it's right in their faces?
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned cellphones from New York's public schools in 2007.
Bloomberg argued -- correctly -- that cellphones are a distraction in the classroom and that some students use them to cheat on tests. Parents and students went ballistic, but an appellate court upheld the Department of Education's right to enforce the ban.
If a student so much as brings a cellphone onto school grounds and is detected by school officials, the device is confiscated.
That might be a little harsh. But something needs to be done to rein in classroom cellphone use that has nothing to do with learning.
Another friend who teaches at Howard University in Washington, D.C., complains that her students can't write.
By that she means they are incapable of putting together a simple sentence. Composition is becoming extinct. Yet when it comes to texting, her students have got the fastest thumbs going.
To my knowledge, there is no career where that particular skill in and of itself will take one very far.
My point is not that technology is bad. Facebook can be an extremely useful social tool. I use it to keep up with friends -- particularly those who live far away. I enjoy seeing and sharing photographs. Cellphones obviously serve a useful function. If your car breaks down at night on a remote highway, you want to be able to call for help. Smartphones are also being used in some school districts for learning.
What's disturbing, however, is that so many people are addicted to social media and electronic devices. It's become a social disease.
A teenage boy and girl who were on a date were sitting at a table across from me in a restaurant. Both were hunched over their cellphones, typing rapid-fire during their entire meal.
They had no interaction whatsoever with one another.
I am always encountering people walking near Lake Merritt who are completely oblivious to their surroundings because they are so caught up in their cellphone conversations. It's hard to tell the people shouting into their cellphones from the many mentally ill people engaged in equally loud imaginary conversations.
I know people who will go on vacation to some far-flung part of the world, and the first thing they do after they check into their hotel room is log in to Facebook.
What is the point of paying all that money on plane fare, hotel and food if you're going to spend the bulk of your time sitting in your room posting trivia?
What kind of society are we becoming where people spend so much of their time in a virtual world or jabbering on cellphones?
If it's this way today, I shudder to think what things be like 20 years from now.