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In a Wireless World, Personal Contact Takes a Back Seat

OPINION features excerpts of pieces by columnists from the Op-Ed page and other sections of The New York Times. All columns from the last seven days are available at nytimes.com; Op-Ed pieces (by columnists and outside contributors), plus Editorials and Letters to the Editor, are at nytimes.com/opinion. Please let us know what you think of OPINION at upfront@scholastic.com.

Lately, I've been feeling that technology is dividing us as much as uniting us. Yes, it can make the far feel near. But it can also make the near feel far. I realized this after a cab ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport in to my hotel in Paris. The driver and I were together for an hour, but between the two of us, we had been doing six different things. He was driving, talking on his cell phone, and watching a video on a screen in the dashboard. I was riding, working on my laptop, and playing my iPod. There was one thing we never did: Talk to each other. I love connectivity, but I'm finding this age of interruption overwhelming. I'm not alone. A month ago, I was trying to find a friend in Jerusalem. I kept calling his cell phone and getting no answer. I eventually found him at home. "What's wrong with your cell phone?" I asked. "It was stolen," he said, adding that he didn't replace it because it was constantly breaking his concentration. "Since then, the first thing I do every morning is thank the thief and wish him a long life."

Thomas L. Friedman [11/1/06]