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.


Anonymous said...

Very nice.

Jesse Mendes said...

Thank you.

Timoteo said...

I love this essay. I am so with you on this. Didn't get a cell phone till about a year ago, and use it only when necessary. Don't text. Do tweet. What kind of madness is all this? I have read blogs where the author is doing her post in text language, with all the little anagrams and abbreviations, and I can't tell what she's talking about!

We may lose the English language in the near future, being replaced by "Textese." Pretty sad.

Jessica Mendes said...

Hello (is it Timoteo?)

Thank you for writing, I appreciate your words! Such a pleasure to hear back from like-minded people.


Anonymous said...

Great, thought-provoking post.

Yes, writing numbers down on a piece of paper is a thing of the past. Technology makes things/people more accessible, makes tasks more convenient, and should cut down the time it takes to access people and complete tasks.

Unfortunately, it's had the opposite effect in our lives. Technology has become more time-consuming because of some of the things you mentioned, like weeding through spammers. AND I spend so much time tweeting, texting, posting on FB and blogs, and keeping up with everyone, I have less time to spend on things I love doing more (like writing novels). I feel I had a more simple life without all the technology. Sometimes, I wish things weren't so accessible and convenient.

I am glad to have met a lot of fun, interesting people from around the world though that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to. Gotta love that. As with anything, we just have to take the good with the bad.

Jessica Mendes said...

Hi Dicey

Thanks so much for your comments. I have never been fond of convenience, at least as a modus operandi, so to speak, nor am I a believer that quicker or faster is always better. So I'll stick with a piece of paper and what that stands for.

I really appreciate the point you make overall, and I especially appreciate you sharing your experience. Thank you for your kind feedback on my writing. A pleasure to meet you, indeed!


Stephen said...

Nice post. Helpful to remember that the reason some people don't adopt gadgets is because they don't want to, not because they don't understand them.

The communication options for people who are alone need to be better than i) nothing or ii) gadgets. Let's get real people involved.

Jessica Mendes said...

Thanks, Stephen, for your insightful comments. Interesting. Jesse

Anonymous said...

Interesting. However, I am the complete opposite. I am a technogeek despite my over the middle age. I still engage with my environment and think it is super wonderful that I can stay home inside my sanctuary and still communicate, connect and network. The world is a lot smaller than it looks.

Jessica Mendes said...

To each his own, "Anonymous". We all have the right to choose how we want to spend our time, and how we want to live our lives. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

I swear my way into social adaptability, but I like my technology to serve a purpose. Have a lovely day -Kelly

Beth Arnold said...

Hi Jessica,

Yes, you got it. Glad you sent me the link!


Anonymous said...

Hurray for you! I agree with you on the fact that all this technology is disconnecting us from our senses and from the world. I'm afraid I HAD to buy a BlackBerry when I was running a business. It was the only way I could take a holiday after six years of constant work. Now, I find it convenient to keep track of e-mails, since I am not on the computer all day long.

As for texting, I'm afraid I like it as a way of avoiding speaking on the 'phone. I love face to face contact but am not so keen on talking n the 'phone. So I find texting a useful way of sending short messages.

The problem with our use of technology, is that we've allowed it to become our Master, when we could enjoy it so much more as our Servant.

Jessica Mendes said...

Hello Katherine!

Yes -- well put, if the roles were reversed technology is a powerful tool. You or other readers may quite enjoy a piece I came across in the New York Times about our obsession with technology -- if nothing else, look at the photograph at the top of the article, which is kind of scary:

Or anyone can Google The Work Place Benefits of Being out of Touch by Alina Tugend.