Reflections: The Technology Takeover

I haven’t had a lot of time to write lately, so I’ve been paying particular attention to the world around me, drafting stories and collecting ideas in my head (I’m about ready to burst!). The thing that really caught my attention is how people use  technology today, and the observation that technology is making us, anxious. Unsafe. Lonely. Impatient. Now, I would not suggest this as a broad, general, applies-to-everyone-in-every-situation kind of way. But, here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • Our brains are full of passwords and usernames, knowing where they are, trying to remember to change them, writing them down (which makes them insecure), losing them, resetting them. . .I’m exhausted! And stressed.
  • We’re constantly losing, salvaging or mourning the data (stories, passwords, reports, etc.) that we’ve lost, worried about how the next version of software may force us to transfer all our electronic data to another media, hoping we don’t lose it. My master’s thesis is trapped on a 3.5″ floppy disk that not a single PC in our home can accept!
  • We forget to interact with the real people around us. (And have you ever noticed that when people do look up from their technology, they’re a little, well, cranky for the first 10 minutes or so?)
  • We’re impatient–we’ve gotten so used to having things immediately, that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the things we can do while we’re waiting.
  • We don’t shut down, leave work behind, seek out our friends, and so on.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a while, as I realized I was grumpy far too often. Wondering what might be the root cause, I realized that I was paying too much attention to my technology and not enough to the world around me. It’s hard not to do that, when we’re surrounded by it. The moment this idea of too much technology really coalesced for me was when my daughter and I took my husband out for his birthday dinner. We went to a nice steakhouse, the kind of restaurant where you spend three hours on one meal. I insisted on taking everyone’s phones away, wanting to encourage conversation and interaction.

It was hard. Really hard. We had gotten rusty at keeping a conversation going. We’ve gotten used to being to answer any question, immediately, rather than pondering, brainstorming, imagining, creating. We talked about a trip we’re planning to take–and it was hard not to Google potential activities at our destination, rather than just imagine.

It was good. It was necessary. I’m seriously thinking of taking email off my phone. I’m not a neurosurgeon, and no one’s life is at risk if I don’t respond to an email the minute I receive it. I’m thinking I won’t do any more banking online, because its good for me to plan what we want to spend, go to the bank to withdraw some cash, and living against the plan. It’s good to go to the library to look up information once in a while.

Our family had a wonderful dinner, and some fun conversation. Much like riding a bike or ice-skating, once we got going, we did just fine with our conversation. But it was an eye-opening exercise in patience, being present and in the moment. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that we’ll give up all our technology.  It is darn handy a lot of the time! But, what I’ve become acutely aware of is how easy it is to get too focused on the technology, and forget to pay attention to the world around us. Our family is remembering how to set boundaries, and let personal time be just that–personal. Just because my boss can send me a weekend email shouldn’t mean I have to answer it!  We sometimes forget that it’s okay to say, “No.” No, I can’t take my kid to four parties/sports practices/lessons on Saturday. No, I can’t have that reviewed for you in an hour. No, just no. Instead, I’m working on remembering how to say, “No, I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do.” Most of the time, it’s working just fine.

What is particularly exciting for me about all of this is that I’ve sketched a new character in my head. I can’t wait to write a story for him/her!  There are several story ideas just floating around in my brain, hazy but there. It’s so much fun when a new character arrives, and I love getting to know them.  I think I’ll even start my character sketch by using pen and paper. As for the technology, I’m going to keep reminding myself to stay engaged in the world and people around me. The technology is a tool, but it can’t replace the real.

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

15 thoughts on “Reflections: The Technology Takeover”

  1. My husband needs to learn that “no” trick. He lamented another busy weekend yesterday – and he’s the one who agreed to it! And he razzes me all the time about how much I pay attention to my phone – but then texts me and gets a little annoyed when I don’t respond right away. Sometimes you can’t win.

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  2. Pamela, I so agree. I find that a weekend away (with minimal email checking on the laptop), or even a day at the beach makes my mind explode with new possibilities and creative ideas. I gave up email on my phone over a year ago, and it’s liberating to know that when I’m up and out, I’m not still connected to that inbox. Good for you on the dinner. Sounds like a great time was had!

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  3. I’m right up there with Diane. I love the unplugged time I have. Lately though – it seems to increase exponentially when I return. Have to figureout how to deal with that. Good for you for no Electronics at teh table!

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  4. I actually assigned different tones to various alerts on my phone so I know how urgently I need to check. Messages from my husband or kids get checked a lot faster than those from others. And email has it’s own sound, so I know I can blow it off for a while. We are also a “no phones at the table” family – not even to answer a call.

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  5. Yes, unplug once in a while. Our furnace bit the dust recently, over the weekend no less, so we built a fire. I was going to take my computer down to sit next to it to write, but found I wanted to use real paper and real ink instead. It was nice to write like that and I’ll do it more often now.

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  6. Amen, Sista!!

    And as for meeting new characters, one thing I like to do is keep a notebook, where I paste in (yes, with real glue) a picture. I clip pictures of my characters from magazines when I see someone who reminds me of that character. And then I jot down by hand that person’s role in the book and a couple of major traits.

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  7. Theresa, I love the image of you by the fire, writing longhand. There’s something powerful about it. I suspect that sometimes we just need to come at things from a really different perspective, and swapping out the tools is a big part of that for me. It’s not an all or nothing proposition, right?

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  8. Mary, I love using the sounds as a cue for your responses! One of the hard things about putting down my device is worrying–the one time my phone died at the office, my daughter had been trying to call me to tell me she and her dad had been in a car accident and needed a ride. She didn’t know the number of my office! So, I check it perhaps to often. I will try the sound thing!

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  9. Kait, you have a point! I’ve started cleaning out my email once a week. And by clean, I mean I do a mass delete. I’m learning to work past the panic of deleting something “important.” 🙂 (If I could sing, I’d launch into Let It Go right about now.)

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  10. Judy, you’re so right! There are those in my office that are constantly checking email during our meetings, and it’s so frustrating; with friends, that would be worse.

    Diane, there was an article recently in an education publication that documented the stifling of creativity and out-of-box thinking that seems to correlate with the rise in technology use. I’ve noticed that I see so much more, notice more, when I don’t have the devices. I’m actually starting to carry my camera again, so there’s less excuse to have my phone handy!

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  11. I really relate to this, although I’ve never put email on my phone–I balked at that from the beginning. I notice that my patience is thinner now than when I had little kids around. And it’s because of the electronics. The printer turns itself off for some unknown reason. My fingers hit the wrong key on the keyboard, and the whole thing freezes up or shuts down. And all that spam. Since I became aware at how annoyed I got with these things, I’ve tried to cool down. It doesn’t seem as if it’s all going away anytime soon. LOL

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  12. This has a lot of resonance for me…I was just thinking that all the tech has invaded our lives and made “leisure time” almost a thing of the past…because with all the breaks we take to check email and social media, there’s really nothing left. Very thoughtful! And I love that you called a “time out” on it.

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