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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Almost every day, I take a walk with Nala. We have a couple of regular routes that depend on how much time I have and what the weather is like and how my toe feels and how long it’s been since I last picked up the mail. In the past, this walk has also been a time to catch up with significant others, but for the last few years, it’s almost always been just for Nala and me.

Nala on her leash

Nala on her leash

I don’t take my phone on these walks. This wasn’t a mindful choice; it began because in the summertime I often don’t have any pockets, and it was a mindful choice not to have to lug a purse around for a simple walk in my neighborhood. But lately I’ve noticed how much I enjoy not having my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. It tells me how to get where I’m going. It lets me access my schedule. It lets me keep in touch with a host of lovely people. It gives me information exactly when I need it (and yes, I did check a recipe in the grocery store today in order to choose the correct size of cranberry bag). It lets me take photos that help me remember what I have done and where I have been.

I love my phone too much. I want to check my phone. I want to see what’s happening on Facebook and Twitter. I think of things to google. I flip into schedule mode at the drop of a hat. I want to see if anyone has texted me. I want to text someone. Hell, I simply want to know what time it is.

But I also don’t like my phone. I go to social events, and I notice when everyone has their phone out, and everyone is talking to people who aren’t there, via texting, instead of talking to the people who are there. I don’t think I judge (I know what it’s like to be shy, to want to avoid an awkward moment), but I do notice. Sometimes, when I am not at my best, I think, “Aha! This means I’m allowed to look at my phone too.”  But more often I think, “What’s going on here? How can we re-establish a connection right now?” Because that’s really what’s happened. The social connection has gotten difficult or a little slow for some reason, and instead of waiting it out and sitting with the slowness, we’ve retreated into our phones.

I like noticing. I like having some daily time when I remember what it’s like not to have the impulse to check. I like not always being available.

I revel in the opportunity to be actually alone. When my phone is there, it is a constant reminder that I don’t have to be alone. But sometimes the company provided by my phone can feel hollow. I remember that according to Facebook, my life is an uninterrupted stream of exciting events and cute outfits. According to Facebook, I live a magazine kind of life, and yet that isn’t actually what my life is like at all. My life is so much more complex than that.

I like having uninterrupted time with the people who are important to me when we just…talk. And sometimes we sit in silence. And sometimes the conversation is not the most scintillating thing ever, and most likely there’s something really exciting happening somewhere on the internet. And I don’t care.

Because it is in that space that conversations deepen. It is in that space that conversations spread out to become some of the most interesting I’ve ever had. It is in that space that I learn things about the world, and about the people in that world.

It is in that space that I get to feel what it is like to be you.

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Yes, I know “nobody” talks on the phone anymore. Somewhere along the way it became trendy to have phones that work poorly as phones, and we really only need to communicate in text-based ways anyway, and I’m a writer so this is all to my benefit. But haven’t we all been part of a frustrating text-based communication string that takes forever and would have taken three or less minutes to clear up over the phone? Haven’t we?

The truth is, I was never one of the people who hated talking on the phone. Sure, given the choice, I’ve always preferred face-to-face, but back in the day the phone was a useful tool for staying in touch, and I used it that way. I wasn’t one of those people whose ear was permanently glued to my receiver, but I did spend some non-business-related time on the phone. Until everyone stopped using the phone, and the mere idea began to feel…weird.

Photo Credit: alexkerhead via Compfight cc

Old School! Photo Credit: alexkerhead via Compfight cc

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of communications that are much more convenient and effective via email or text or choose-your-text-based-method-of-choice. And I don’t want to go back to the days when there were fewer options (those options being telephone, snail mail, or knocking on my friend’s door and asking if they could play).

But I realized recently that just like with snail mail, for me telephone calls have gained a certain kind of cachet because they happen more rarely. Meaning, they’re more likely to feel SPECIAL.

When I finished my novel a couple of weeks ago, I was having a great time texting and messaging a bunch of friends to celebrate. One friend responded by calling me up, and I have to say, that made my day.

Last month I got a text from a friend that mentioned crying. I instantly called him up. Next best thing to being able to be there in person.

One of my good friends phones me up for a chat every week or so. We’re both busy people, and we can’t always find time to see each other, and even when we do, we’re often going to group events together and such. But finding twenty or thirty minutes to talk is usually doable, and our phone chats allow us to stay up-to-date with the personal details of each other’s lives.

Honestly I like the phone for the same reason I like Skype; talking on the phone doesn’t strip away as many cues as text-only does. With Skype, I still get all (or at least most) of the body language. With phone calls, I miss most of those, but at least I get tone of voice and intonation. I use emoticons and exclamation points and asterisks and capital letters liberally in text to give it some of the same nuance as speaking, but honestly, there’s only so much I can do.

I still don’t call people on the phone a lot myself. There’s so many people who hate talking on the phone that it feels like a potential minefield. So I tend to save it for those moments when it will potentially make a big difference, when a friend is celebrating or struggling, or when I am.

But sometimes I think a phone call is exactly the right thing to do.

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The theme of the week: the increased access to information that technology has granted us and how that has changed our lives in a real and fascinating way.

On Tuesday night I went to the first of a new salon series. (I will interrupt to say I’m so excited this is a thing right now! I’m all over the idea of regular salons.) One of the talks was about Didier compiling the encyclopedia, and how subversive it was to make all of this knowledge available to anyone who could read.

When I was a kid, my family made the investment of buying the World Book series of encyclopedias. They were royal blue, heavy (especially the popular letters), and took up two shelves in the hutch in the dining area. Every year the World Book people would send us an additional slim volume with all updates designated essential for that year, and then we would go through and put stickers in the main volumes so we’d know about the updates.

Stack of encyclopedias. Photo Credit: Horia Varlan via Compfight cc

The World Books were a big deal. Now I didn’t have to use the encyclopedias in the library anymore! Or at least not exclusively. If I wanted to know something, I could look it up right at home. Whenever a question arose, the only options were to use reference books (either that you were lucky enough to own or obtained from the library) or to ask someone you knew and hope they knew the answer. This was not a system that encouraged constant questioning (at least without a certain level of frustration involved), and yet, it was a great improvement from the time before encyclopedias, the time before more widespread literacy, and the time before the printing press.

Now we have the technological wonder that is the internet: the search engine, perhaps our most successful AI project to date, along with Wikipedia and platforms that make publishing and information curation simpler. I look up several things every day. Today I watched a video to find out what a burning house sounded like, I looked up photos of Mediterranean-style mansions, I watched clips about the upcoming Game of Thrones season and the upcoming Veronica Mars movie, I read some updates on the economy, and I looked at many real estate listings, including user reviews of apartment complexes. So much information at the tip of my fingers. (It’s almost enough to make me salivate.)

I was talking to a friend about travel, and this increased access to data has changed the way we do that, too. When I was in France this summer, every place I stayed offered free Wi-Fi that I could access with my iPad. It took fairly extreme discipline for me to avoid the Internet in the face of this accessibility. (While I succeeded at the spirit of my goal for the most part, eschewing email and Facebook, I did look up rail timetables, attraction information, and local restaurants.) My friend took a trip on which he didn’t bring a smart phone but a camera phone, on which he had stored photos of maps and key guidebook pages, so he didn’t have to struggle with folding and unfolding a map on random street corners. I can now travel with more books than I could possibly read while only having to haul around my Kindle.

The Information Age doesn’t always feel very flashy. For one thing, we’re already used to it, and for another, it doesn’t have the movie shine of flying cars or transporters or living in space. But when I think of the evolution of the dissemination of human thought–from the development of language and then writing, to the invention of paper and later the printing press, to the projects of assembling human knowledge in museums and libraries and encyclopedias, to the rise of computing, digital data storage, the internet, portable devices, and the Cloud, with so many other steps in between–the Information Age seems truly amazing. I’m very excited to be alive to see (and benefit from) this most recent chapter of technological change.

And I’m thrilled that I’m encouraged to ask even more questions.

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