In the remote areas of New Guinea where I do fieldwork, and where new communication technologies haven’t yet arrived, all communication is still face-to-face and full-attention—as it used to be in the U.S. Traditional New Guineans spend most of their waking hours talking to one another. In contrast to the distracted and sparse conversations of Americans, traditional New Guinea conversations have no interruptions to look at the cell phone in one’s lap, nor to tap out e-mails or text messages during a conversation with a person physically present but receiving only a fraction of one’s attention.
One American missionary’s son who grew up as a child in a New Guinea village and moved to the U.S. only in his high school years described his shock on discovering the contrast between children’s playing styles in New Guinea and in the U.S. In New Guinea, children in a village wandered in and out of one another’s huts throughout the day. In the U.S., as my friend discovered, “Kids go into their own houses, close the door, and watch TV by themselves.”