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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Less Tech - Real Conversations and Real Books - A Dreamy Idea

Real books!
I haven't fully embraced technology.  If I could, I would write this blog by hand and illustrate it for you.  By the same token, I haven't exactly turned my back on the benefits of living in the twenty-first century - I love to have movies and music available anytime and anywhere. 

Up until about three months ago, I worked in a job that provided me with a cell phone.  Not only was it a phone, but I could surf the web, send and receive emails, take pictures and videos, watch movies and listen to music.  All from one little palm-sized device.  What a miracle!  I no longer have the job, choosing a simpler and much lower paying alternative - freelancing - and don't have the phone either.  More on the impact of this loss in a moment...

Last year, we also moved forward in reading technology.  We bought a Nook (weeks later the Nook Color came out - we were instantly behind the times again).  What a great idea!  Less expensive, more portable books!  Imagine all the reading one could do!  Well, we downloaded just about every free sample known to man and actually bought, count them, two e-books.  In the flush of excitement about this new product, I forgot that I never buy books at full price anyway.  With Amazon.com and thrift stores, who does?  Also, let's be honest, just about every book that you'd actually want to take with you is pretty portable already.  I also won't be too upset if I lose my $2.99 second hand store find, but my $150 e-book reader?  That would be tragic!

Finally, let me paint a little picture of family togetherness that I recently witnessed...  A cloudless summer day in the park...  A family of four walking across the perfectly tended lawn...  A wonderful opportunity for conversation and fun!  Perhaps, if any of them would take a moment to put down their phones.  Each member of the family, in age order, plodded across the park, occasionally tripping on a gopher mound, heads down, fingers dancing on the diminutive keyboards of their phones.  Texting as if their lives depended on it.  What a wasted opportunity!

I truly don't mean to sound as if I feel that I am somehow superior in my cell phone-less state.  Far from it.  Just a few months ago, I would have been one of them.  There was nowhere that my phone didn't go, too.  I was always available.  Texting my kids, emailing my boss or colleagues, checking emails, looking up key information on the internet (it's hard not to have access to IMDB when watching movies...  it's so helpful to answer that neverending question, "What else is he/she from????"), getting directions and being able to call home to ask, "What was that ONE thing you absolutely needed from the store?"

Each night, my phone was set to charge right beside my bed.  If I woke at 3 am and that little red light was flashing, I knew I had an email or voice mail...  of course I would respond to it then and there.  As soon as I awoke each morning, I could instantly check CNN.com to see what events had happened in the world (more often than not, nothing had changed overnight, especially in the entertainment section which I am embarrassed to say I always looked at first).

As far as reading, for weeks I was able to look at between ten and sixty pages of previously unseen books on the Nook.  Free samples!  Of course, once the sample ended, always mid-sentence and at a critical point, I'd have to pay at least $9.99 to see what would happen.  What I usually ended up doing was going to St. Vincent de Paul to see if they had the book (they almost always did), for which I would pay, at most, $2.50.  And, I'd have a book to show for it!

Since I've had to give up the cell phone, I've noticed something.  I have time.  Time to rest.  Time to read.  I can be unavailable!  I don't feel that I have to answer every call, every email...  immediately.  So many things that seemed important are either ignored or forgotten.  I check my emails twice, maybe three times, a day.  There's nothing that can't wait.  When I am walking across a park lawn, I don't trip (as much), and I can talk to my wife or kids without interuption. 

I have also been reminded that I don't just love books for what is contained within the cover, but also for the feel of that cover, it's design, it's very real characteristics.  I love the way pages feel and, if it's an old book, the way they smell.  I love the illustrations, not in digital formats, but there - printed on the page.  Books are for reading, for collecting, for decorating with.  You could never get the same impact with a stack of Nooks or Kindles in a room as you can with lovely and varied books!

When I want to talk to my kids, I talk to them rather than texting.  We check in with each other, we plan ahead, we know what we are doing and where we are.  It's marvelous to be able to see faces and hear voices.

I know all of this must make me seem like a sort of Ludite - against technology - but I really am not.  I love all of these gadgets in their place.  But as soon as I see myself becoming a slave to the cellphone, Ipod or laptop, I know things have gone too far.  Making technology work for ourselves, not the reverse, is the key.  A wonderful symphony listened to on an Ipod is lovely, but it's no replacement for a live orchestra.  A text or email is often expedient, but it's nothing compared to a long, friendly chat or a handwritten letter on beautiful stationary.

Much more fun to write with...


So, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all the gadgets and gizmos in your life...  If you feel compelled to check your email, your Facebook page or your Linked In account every hour, and you don't really enjoy it...  Try taking a week off.  Really!  Take your vacation, and put your "essential" electronics away.  You might find yourself feeling incredibly stressed at first - I kept reaching for my Blackberry for weeks!  But, I can promise you that, in the long run, you will feel as if a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders.

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