Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Dinosaur in a Sea of Technophiles

I consider myself a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to technology. I don’t own an iPad or an iPhone or a Blackberry or a palm pilot. I avoid using my cell phone unless absolutely necessary and I don’t text. When I get on a streetcar or a subway, instead of putting a headset on or losing myself in a tiny screen pad, I pull a soft cover book out of my carrying bag.

I am fighting the craze every step of the way. Why? Because when I am sitting on a subway train and I look around and 20 out of the 30 people I am surrounded by have their faces buried deep in a hand-held gadget, I think the world is losing its mind. We are so far removed from our natural environment it’s frightening. I’ve seen streetcar drivers short-turning who get up out of their seat to announce the last stop, everyone has to get off. Without fail, there are always a few stragglers, yapping on their cell phones or music blasting, oblivious to the fact that the car has just emptied and there are a crowd of people on the street corner staring at them.

I value my senses. When I am on transit, I want to open the window and smell the air, or be aware of the sounds around me to stay safe and alert. At home, I want to use my vision and exercise my mind away from the glare of my computer screen. I strive to hone my sixth sense by paying attention to energy shifts in my environment, and the intuitive feel of my own body. I want to live IN the world – the real world, not a virtual one. Life is short. I don’t want to be sacrificing any more of my valuable time to technology than I absolutely have to.

I am used to being a bit of a freak. When I tell people I don’t text, I am generally met with shock or disbelief. When I read an article or a blog post supposedly intended to assist newbies in some “basic” social media task and I don’t understand most of the language, I wonder how I got so far behind so fast. I am an intelligent woman. But I simply cannot seem to muster up the required amount of gusto to get myself up to speed. I already spend far too much time blinking at my computer screen as it is.

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Ellen DeGeneres interview Eddie Murphy. She was asking him about rumors that were circulating and one of them was that he didn’t have a computer or an email address. Was it true?

“Nah, I don’t do any of that stuff,” he replied dismissively. His disinterest was palpable, and I not only admired him for it, but I was filled with a sense of wild envy. Imagine having so much money that you don’t ever have to use email if you don’t want to!

But Ellen pressed on. Did he not even have a cell phone? Murphy’s face lit up. Actually, he had met a girl recently and when the time came to give him her phone number, he reached for a piece of paper. “Oh – you want to do this the old fashioned way,” she quipped. That’s when Murphy ran out and got his first cell phone.

So here’s my question. Is writing a phone number down on a piece of paper really old fashioned?! Do we really want to live in a world where “old fashioned” is viewed as “out of touch”, or where a simple act like this is condescended to? It seems to me that’s where we are headed if we’re not already there. Clearly the comment irked Murphy, whose association with the term was enough to make him feel uncool or out of the loop. It’s too bad he didn’t hold his ground. A dude who doesn’t bow to the trend if it doesn’t suit him is sexy. Someone who’s been around is sexy. Experience is sexy. If his lady friend couldn’t get that, she’s not worth his time.

And so it should go for any of us who are “older”. But I digress. How many times have you allowed someone to “program you” into their cell phone? Have you always been comfortable with it? I seldom am. I can’t help but think about the fact that once I’m in there, I stay there for as long as he owns that phone, or chooses to delete it. Whereas a piece of paper, he’s got to take that home and leave it on his night table and keep track of it somehow. I want to know if he’s interested enough to go to the effort. I don’t want to be “inputted” into his system to be Google searched or sent Facebook invitations. I want to figure out whether I even want to know him first.

And that’s what bothers me about so much of social media today. We’re all so busy accumulating contacts, collecting “friends” and making links that we are spending less and less quality time really getting to know the people we “know”. We’re not as discriminating. It’s all about numbers, size, follower counts, volume. Someone on Twitter recently said to me that he was overwhelmed with knowing so many people superficially, while at the same time knowing so few.

I’m on Twitter with a purpose because I do believe that social media has a place if you’re smart about how you use it. Specifically, I think Twitter is the most multi-faceted, creative and intelligent medium on the scene today. So it’s disheartening to see it abused by spammers or everyday joes peddling their products. I resent having to invest my time regularly “unfollowing” people who “bought” me as a follower. And I don’t understand the use of automated DMs or tweets. They miss the point. This is a venue loaded with opportunities.

One of those might be to allow kismet to do its work. I like to use my intuition in choosing the timing of my tweets, and see what comes out of that. What new connections might come out of my “feeling my way” through how and when I tweet? I treat it like an exercise in “right timing”; of synchronization with the forces that be. Otherwise, I’m just on automatic, succumbing to the often mindless buzz of technological seduction.

And this, as I see it, a benefit of being “older”. So much of it is about seeing that bigger picture – for example, having a grasp on the broader purpose and implications of social media – and getting some perspective on what really matters. It’s about slowing down and paying attention, and being wiser about how you spend your time.

At least for me. That’s the gift; that’s what I’m making it. Because I sure as hell don’t want to spend the prime of my life immersed in a virtual reality.

I want the real deal.