The relatively recent access this town has gained to the technological pleasures of the “real world” has always been for me a double-edged sword, a sort of high-tech thorn in my side.
When I first met The Chief he had a “dumb phone”, as they are called these days. I loved it. Instead of vying for his attention over some device, there it was, stable and pure. In all reality, it was he who had to fight for mine at times. He would marvel at my texting dexterity and volume at which I transacted such “conversation”. His phone required each letter’s input until I showed him Predictive Text. You guys remember that one, right? Suddenly, a text merely caused him half the frustration it once had. Still, his texting didn’t increase.
The Chief would question the benefits of such a fancy device as mine (an iPhone). What was the purpose? I would espouse the wonders of having directions to anywhere, anytime and the sheer possibilities of the world of the internet at my fingertips to which he would reply: “That’s what a map, a dictionary, other people and then, last and least, a computer are for.”
In all honesty, I remember defending the phone lightly. I wasn’t sure if I really liked its bells and whistles but I did know that I had grown accustomed to it. When I learned that only a few years earlier, our town had conversed to the world only via one pay phone and to one another via CB radio, I felt like I had missed the boat. I had arrived when technology had fully nestled herself in (again).
Still, I was used to her, simultaneously comforted and duped by her.
I remember pondering the meaning of a word together once our first Summer together and as I reached for my phone, The Chief reached for his dictionary.
This moment struck me and I promised myself that I would be better at reaching for books than reaching for my phone.
That Fall we headed to California for our first annual family visit and The Chief started to understand the supposed benefits of the iPhone. Lost as could be, we would suddenly be found. Wanting to see a movie, we could know the schedule at the typing of a few words. Hungry, we could decipher where to eat with a quick search. Yet, the retrieval of such information didn’t always make things easier or more fun or more quickly expedited. The plethora of information sometimes made it harder. Which route to take? There were so many options. Which movie or restaurant to go to? Everyone had an opinion and an experience and after wading through a few reviews they all melded together.
Still, in the return to our cabin that Winter, the phone stayed and the computer did too and now, a few years later, they’ve started to multiply.
These devices do bring “us” together. They have made it easier for me to keep in touch with friends and family, they’ve made writing and publishing this blog a possibility and they’ve connected me to people and ideas I perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Yet does it bring us closer? The “us” that is right in front of us, right next to us?
The other day, I was in a conference call in which the attendees joined from all over the Western edge of the US. We were in offices and homes, in business suits and extreme business casual. We were a mix of people, all working together to one goal and I thought to myself how crazy that we can all be in one “place” together despite our distances apart.
Yet, were we? Did the “us” we created by attending actually come together? Technology has this way of bringing together while simultaneously dividing. During the call, I received multiple texts from co-workers about the meeting. We were finishing the last bits of a presentation and I was getting last-minute updates on how to proceed, what to share, what to present. I was there, in those texts, in those directions, not in the meeting and I could tell that I was not alone. Minutes later, another attendee mentioned that he had just acquired some new information. Not meaning before the meeting, meaning during the meeting. He too was off in his own technological bubble, checking email while others spoke and debated and brainstormed. We were all tapping in and out of the meeting. Together or alone we retreated and reappeared, never announcing our coming or going, everyone under the assumption that everyone else was participating. Assuming that we, in our importance, could check out to do something more important, or something far less important. Take a break to check our email, disconnect for a moment.
The meeting was an hour-long.
One hour for which I would bet none of us were completely present. My job, which required me to be there, also required me elsewhere, to be simultaneously mentally present in two places at once.
As a society, we talk about the pros and cons of technology, about the coexistent togetherness and the isolation we feel from being so “connected”. Yet, steadily we continue. We slowly accept what should be rudeness as commonplace. Accepting that the person you’re speaking to will be scrolling on their phone, half-listening. Accepting that we text someone and two minutes later can’t remember what we said. I saw a meme the other day that said: “If I respond to your text with ‘Oh, cool’, that means I’m over the conversation”. We accept sub-par communication and call it connection because we’ve agreed to those standards. We accept them for one another and for ourselves. We accept when we look up from our screens and realize an hour of “relaxation” has passed after which we feel neither relaxed nor refreshed.
I know, for me, I’m a sensitive little beast. I need structure and continuity, ceremony and rhythm. My body now (and always has, though I neglected it) requires 8 hours of sleep and if I don’t get outside, even for a short moment every day, I feel unsettled. I can’t be too social or I will feel depleted and although certain foods are my heart’s desire, when I abstain, my whole self feels better. Candid conversations with my girlfriends and guy friends are essential to my happiness and I know I need quality time with The Chief, just the two of us, cuddled up on the couch reading or watching a movie.
All of these things I’ve known and aimed for and missed and tried again and sometimes failed twice, yet I’ve always reached for them. Yet until that conference call, I didn’t realize how badly a break with technology also needs to be on that list of Self-Love Daily To Dos.
The Chief and I have been taking nights off lately, turning off our devices in tandem and spending the evening together, devoid of personal technology (we will still watch a movie if that’s what we are in the mood for) and it’s funny in a nervous laugh kind of funny how often I feel myself think to reach for my phone. Just to look at it. Just to check. Distract instead of being present. After that call, I realize that these nights can’t just be here or there. The feeling I got when I walked into the living room to ask The Chief a question and didn’t see him looking at a screen is one I didn’t realize I’d needed so badly. One I had missed. A feeling of importance and togetherness and presence.
I’m not saying that we are tossing out our phones (though I have thought about it) nor am I saying that technology is bad. It’s beautiful in so many ways. Yet, just like my inclination to eat chocolate chips every night en masse, I too need to curb the technology addiction that so sneakily wormed its way into my life. We are here, surrounded in beauty, but I know that sometimes I’m missing it.
I don’t know exactly what it looks like to not miss what’s in front of me, I’ve gotten farther away from the shore than I thought. Perhaps it’s turning off the phone every evening at 6 pm. Perhaps, it’s buying a real alarm clock so that I don’t wake to the news of “my world”. Perhaps it’s using the phone only as a phone and the computer for everything else. Separation. Perhaps it’s mailing more letters instead of sending more texts. I’m not totally sure yet what it means, but I do know that it’s necessary for me and mine and the little boundaries we’ve set so far have made a world of difference.
Here’s to you and yours. May you be present and feel important to those you surround yourself with.
How do you deal with technology? I’m all ears.