Call me, maybe. (I can also be reached by email, FB, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram).
Lately I’ve been trying to figure out why it takes me 3 1/2 hours to eek out a blog post that should take about 35 minutes. I’d like to know why my thoughts flitter from place to place and my mind never seems at rest. Mostly, I’m trying to understand why I was a more prolific writer at age 15 than I am at 36, when my thoughts should be so much richer, and I should have so much more to say.
Louis CK gave an interview on Conan last week about the reasons why he doesn’t want to buy his kids smartphones. If you didn’t see it, it’s worth a watch. I was exposed to it on facebook of course. Which I accessed through my smartphone, apparently in my effort to not feel sad and alone. Not only did the clip reinforce my long-held belief that in order to be very funny, one also has to be very smart, but it also made me evaluate my own nascent relationship with my Iphone. That’s what good comedy does. It registers as funny because it feels like something we could have said ourselves and because it taps into a universal truth. And cell phones are nothing if not universal.
I grew up in the age of the land line, before mix-tapes were replaced by Pandora stations and VCRs were disqualified by Tivo. These revolutions in technology came swiftly and often, and there was always a wave of excitement at their arrival. But to me, these shifts always felt overwhelming and uncomfortable, and every time there was some huge technological metamorphosis, I transitioned with caution. It was usually two years after everyone else had already made the adjustment.
I had a boyfriend in the early aught’s–right around the time when technology was really taking a turn–who would always give me gadgets as presents because he knew I would never make those changes on my own. For my birthday, he handed me a small box with a clunky metal thing and headphones inside. I had no idea what it was.
“What is this?” I asked. It didn’t look like the earrings I’d requested.
“It’s a new thing called an MP3 player. You put your music on it.” So I put all my music on it. And I had to admit to myself–this was definitely better than the old way.
For Christmas, he gave me my first cell phone. Everyone around me already had one by this time, and I had purposely held out. The idea of being reachable at all times did not sound appealing whatsoever, and I got all weird and indignant and accused him of trying to keep tabs on me. The answering machine was an invention I was perfectly comfortable with. Had technology ended there, it would have been fine with me.
Of course it didn’t end there.
The phones got more features like cameras and texting and internet access. The internet got more fun sites like Facebook and Pinterest and four billion blogs, all of which were accessible on the phones. The phones even had that MP3 thingy built right in. I lived without these amenities for years, while everyone else around me latched right on. I purposely held out in getting a smartphone, and kept my flip phone until last December. I still had to pay to send a text, and made about four per year. I was an animal approaching extinction, one of the last surviving members of a diminishing tribe.
That all changed last Christmas, when Vin gifted me an Iphone 5 because he knew I would never buy one on my own. I was both excited and cautious about the change. I had avoided this gadget purposely because I thought I’d like it so much I’d never be able to put it down. Sure enough, I started playing with it, and I couldn’t put it down. I was instantly amazed by how much I could store in one place and how much simpler it made my life in many ways.
I had to admit to myself–this was definitely better than the old way.
But I’m worse, in the exact ways that I predicted I would be. I’m now part of the culture I’d been mocking and griping about for years. I’m a person who’s looking down when I should be looking up. A person who feels the need to constantly refresh my news feed, to scroll through Instagram photos, to dissociate from my own surroundings to peek into everyone else’s. I now have a crutch to lean on during quiet moments, something to tap away on to avoid the discomfort of being unoccupied and alone.
I know I’m not alone in this ritual, because I see it around me constantly. I see it when I pass outdoor cafes where every person at the table has their phone parked right next to their dinner fork. I see it on the subway, when I’m sitting across from a row of 10 people and every single one of them has a phone in their hands, right where a newspaper or magazine used to be. I see it in my therapy office, where clients are met with the old-fashioned challenge of a having a 45-minute conversation complete with eye contact and body language without interruption. I see the anxiety that crosses their faces when they they hear they have a text message and they’re unable to check it. I see what they reach for the minute they leave the chair. But I just barely see it, because–of course– I’m reaching for my phone too.
Saturday night I went to my first hockey game of the season, which is always an exciting thing. They’d set up something called an “oblivious cam” that timed how long it took people to look up from their cell phones to realize they were on the Jumbo-tron. And like the Louis CK skit, this observation about the shift in our culture was both hilarious and sad. We’d all paid money to be there. We were all sitting next to people we enjoyed sharing activities with. And we all had our phones right there with us, almost as necessary an accoutrement as our tickets to come inside.
To my 46 followers on Instagram, you’re welcome. I’m sure my picture of the Barclay Center totally made your night. To my gray matter, my sensory receptors and my 15-year-old self, a curious girl who experienced the world in a much richer way than the adult version occasionally does–my apologies.