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.