21 May 2012

Connecting to the World Wide World

The conversation about technology and its place in our lives seems to keep cropping up now and then, and whenever it does I'm the ambivalent one in the corner.  For complete transparency here let me admit that— 

  • I have no internet service at home. 
  • I don't own an iPod or iPad 
  • I have a laptop that I use for writing or fussing with pictures. 
  • I have the internet at work for 8 hours.  (Why would I need more time than that online?) 
  • I got my first cell phone only last year as a Christmas present from a frustrated family member so I could use it when I'm travelling interstate to let them know if there are unexpected delays.  
  • My camera takes film that needs to be developed. (The aforementioned cell phone does take pictures but so far I've only managed photos of the inside of my purse and several of the sidewalk.)
So that's my techno world in a nutshell: a television, 3 land-line phones (two of which are rotary dials), a little-used cell phone, an old film camera, and a laptop with no internet service.  Yes, my life is positively madcap.

This means, of course, that my treatise on all things technical comes from a very, very slanted perspective.
But then, the only real opinions we can have, after all, are our own.  That alone makes them valid in a strangely comforting sort of way.  And while I know it's too late to push the techno baby back up the birth canal—it's out of the bag, as it were, and here we are—I also know that it's important to remember, now and then, the way things were, and that they can still be that way occasionally, if only to clear the data beta mega giga out of our minds and let a little fresh air in there.

When I was a teenager (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and lava had to be carried down the volcano by hand and thrown on sleeping villagers) you could only engage in 'techno tasks' in the privacy of your home or automobile, and generally only at certain moments in an otherwise busy and truly "connected" day.  And by connected I mean you looked around at the world as you walked along, and you heard things not through a machine but through something far more complex and miraculous. Your ears.  Granted, you could listen to the radio in the car or pretty much anywhere in your house. You could relax in your favorite chair or on your bed and listen to your favorite cassette.... or 8-track.... or vinyl album... or 45s.  But you would move into the parlor or den to watch television. (Usually with the entire family.) And if you wanted to make a telephone call you were limited to standing or sitting next to whatever wall or surface held the 'phone.  (Years later, if you had a cordless 'phone you might even be able to take that call on the front steps or patio. Talk about living on the edge.) The point is that while we had all of these remarkable technological gadgets, we were tethered to outlets and cords and the timing and location of these tasks were limited.  And the time we weren't engaging in them was techno-free.

Today people do all of these things wherever they like: at the dinner table, in cars, buses, trains and airplanes, walking down the street, at concerts, in supermarkets, in class. There are no boundaries, no limitations to where and when you can text, chat, surf, watch videos, television, movies or shuffle your tunes. Word on the street is that these technological playthings keep people connected to the world. I would argue that those ubiquitous little appendages actually prevent us from being connected—in any real way—to what is happening within the immediate physical space around us.  Which does beg the issue: do we want to be connected to the moment, or do we want to be connected to something (or someone) unseen in the distant ether?  I think both have their merits, but being ether-less and in the moment more often isn't such a bad thing. (Did I mention I'm a uni-tasker?)  

My mental questions to these folks when I see them on the street, clutching their device of choice like a life support system, are these:
  • How can you hear the birds sing if you have ear buds plugging your head?
  • How can you notice the landscape—or the car that's about to run you down—if your head is buried in the screen of your iPad as you walk along, or your opposable thumbs are twitching in spasms over micro-sized  keys?
  • How can you hear or notice anything if you are babbling into your iPhone?  (By the way, the double edge to that sword is that your babbling generally prevents anyone else within 5 feet of you from noticing or hearing anything but your babbling. But that's another topic...)
I would challenge anyone addicted to their electronic toys to experiment once in awhile:
  • if you have access to a computer during the day and are occasionally allowed to use it for personal reasons then don't go online at night or on weekends [Possible time-sensitive exceptions would include booking an airline flight or checking in for said flight]
  • if you're in a public place (concert, bus, restaurant, etc.) turn your cell phone off entirely.  [Unless you happen to be the close relative of someone who's about to go into hard labor]  Check for messages when you go outside if you must. But must you?  I mean really, what's so important?  Are you the deputy assistant to someone who rules a small country? No? Then unless the kids are home alone or someone you know is ill, or that hard labor thing, wait until you're home.
  • the next time you take a walk, leave your gadgets at home and just listen to the sounds of your town, village, city, suburb, and look around at things as you stroll along. It's good for the soul. And can sometimes be positively enlightening, captivating, educational, or just damned hilarious.
Again, I don't suggest people slide off the grid permanently and take up residence in my troglodyte environment.  Just now and then.  Don't let the so-called bridge of technology serve as a barrier between you and the immediate world that surrounds you. Life off the grid. Try it. You may like it.


  1. Dear Haworth,
    I am a techno freak.. well , I like to think I am.
    I have always loved technology. I do own a computer thats on 24 hours .. I dont need it on all those hours.. but its there. I use it to be able to see my dear family and friends. Once finished on skype, i feel i have been on a trip. I have a mobile phone. Used only for necessity. I have a house phone.. also only used when necessary. My computer.. well, I wouldnt be able to read what you have written without it.! I dont work.. I am at home.
    I love my garden , my dogs and the country. I wake to the birds singing and chatting every day of my life and couldnt live without them. the vast open spaces to roam and see all that beauty has to hold.
    My thoughts are. Lets not go overboard. everything in life with moderation. That makes for a happy medium.
    You are still in touch with the world. I too do not have an I pad.. i dont actually find them sensible..my children have them, and i find them finicky..
    Enjoy your day.

  2. I totally agree with you, Val! Moderation is the key. And not letting the advantages of technology interfere with the benefits of the immediate and tactile world around us. (Do you write paper letters to friends and family? I send emails now and then, but mostly we communicate through the post.) Wishing you a beautiful week!

  3. Well stated. I have a toe dipped into the techno pool. I always feel like I am chasing behind a moving vehicle. I have fancy gadgets that get little use. I do love my laptop and my blogging hobby. But I never feel like I live up to my own aspirations for it. Lots of fancy stuff I think I would like to learn. But maybe not. If I really did...I would. I HAVE fine tuned my cursing vocab! :o)

  4. I know that "chasing" feeling, Jacqueline! I think it's wise to pick and choose the technological toys and skills that help us enjoy life and not feel bullied to know or own or use more than we need. (There are too many books to read, gardens to weed, and crafts to complete!)