March 29, 2014 § 12 Comments
My friend, Craig, asserts that once a technology becomes affordable and available there is no stopping it; it will be adopted and become the new normal.
I argue that he is wrong, that we have the ability to analyze and choose. But I am probably the one who is wrong, at least in terms of outcomes.
For good and bad Mr. Ford’s affordable and widely available invention left a world that traveled on two or four feet in the dust.
We rarely question the wisdom of powering up three thousand pounds of car to carry a couple hundred pounds of human to the store to buy a dozen eggs.
We are now in a period of seismic change in technology, our “normal” falling over itself it is evolving so quickly.
Among the marvels washing over us is the choice of near-total interconnectedness—I say choice because I still believe it is.
We can, if we buy the latest affordable and available device, be in touch around the clock with our jobs, our friends, our acquaintances, total strangers, marketers, the deluge of world news, both real and fictional.
I can know whether your breakfast bagel was satisfying or too dry. You can know that I am stuck in traffic and likely to miss a dental appointment.
To be fair, I can also find long-lost buddies from high school and watch my grandson rocket around a living room eleven hundred miles away—and I do both those things, and appreciate the technology that allows me to do so.
But this is not an equal-time post.
Like the Lorax, speaking for the trees, I am here to speak for what is disappearing.
The thing that will never become affordable or widely available is more time. The time spent connected comes out of other activities. So, what did we do with our time when we were not so connected?
We thought and imagined. We drifted and dreamed. We sat on the stoop and looked up into the trees. We were comfortable in our own company. Or uncomfortable—and if we were uncomfortable, we tried to figure out, in the silence of our selves, what had to change.
We formed opinions that were our own; we did not conduct life as if it were one long Gallup Poll. We were with the people we were with.
We still do those things, but for most, something has changed. Our presence is provisional. We are always ready for interruption.
I don’t carry a smart phone or even a dumb phone unless I’m on a road trip. I recognize the advantage of being able to call for help if I break down. “Get a horse” isn’t even a possibility anymore.
But the technology most of us now carry is always on, which means that we are always on. Like an appliance with the “ready” light lit, we expect, are even eager, for interruption.
This readiness for interruption makes inhabiting the present place and moment hard. It diffuses the appreciation for what is going on in real-time with the people who are not virtually, but actually with us. It makes us impatient and shortens our attention spans.
What if, in one of those peak moments life so randomly gives us, your pocket rings? I bet you’ll answer it, and the moment will slip away—but you will know that you need to pick up Cheerios on your way home.
Deep thought and deep experience require presence.
You are a thinking animal, unique and unrepeatable. Get the good out of technology, sure, but get the good out of your one finite life as well.
Is being constantly available the way you want to spend that limited life span?
Unplug. Not all the time, but sometimes. Be alone, and be with the living, breathing people you can reach out and touch.
Those of us who are lagging the curve may not just be old and behind the times. Listen to us, at least a little.
And listen to the voice inside you that is being drowned out.
And listen to the birds because, out there in the world, it’s spring.
And listen to the people you are with without the possibility of interruption.
Don’t apologize if you are unwilling to be constantly available.
This day will never come again. Choose how you will live it.
Note for those who answer the buzzes and beeps instantly, even while talking to a real person. What etiquette is that real person supposed to follow? Is it permissible to listen to the usurping conversation? What does the real person left in the lurch do with their hands, their eyes, the absorbing conversation they thought they were having with you before the beep? Instant responders, please advise—how is what you are doing not rude behavior?