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Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Remember those ads with the dorky guy who bragged about his superior cell phone coverage by repeatedly asking “Can you hear me now?”  Like an OCD town crier from days of yore, he wanted to make sure we all got the message, loud and clear…in fact, thinking about that ad campaign hearkens back to a time when we were all actually using our phones to make phone calls!  Isn’t THAT a blast from the past?  So who wants to read one more article about how “we are all just a society of hunchbacked tech obsessors and life is passing us by”?  Not my friend Cynthia, that is for sure.  That’s her quote, btw, and the point she was making in the rather epic rant that followed is that technology is the symptom, not the problem.  Civilized, engaged people do not spend most of their time hunched over a phone…they make eye contact, enjoy experiencing the world rather than instagramming it and don’t jump like Pavlov’s dog every time their phone dings, right?  Right?  Well... yes and no.   I’m the first to admit that before I was on Facebook, I didn’t have a freaking clue what all of you were doing on your phones all the time.  Now I find myself picking up my phone whenever I am antsy—waiting for my son outside of school, sitting in traffic—and it’s also the first thing I do at the end of any phone-less activity, like yoga class. I used to check my phone only periodically to see if the school had called or whatever, but now, not unlike that Verizon spokesperson, I’ve become a little OCD in my relationship with my phone.

I used to joke back when my dog was still able to walk with me that she was my “beard”, to mask the fact that I am a compulsive exerciser.  Instead of looking like a nut, I looked like a responsible pet owner!   I think maybe some of us may have developed a bit of a “beard relationship” with our phones as well.  It can be awkward just sitting somewhere waiting, or yes, sometimes even being in a social situation where we don’t feel 100% comfortable…the phone makes us look (we hope) like we’ve got things to do, people to see, deadlines to meet…the phone makes us look like we are not lonely.  We hope.  Like Linus with his security blanket, we keep our phone close by to protect us from feeling awkward or at sea or DISCONNECTED.  Of course, the irony of that is, the more we engage with our phones rather than the world around us, the more disconnected we become.   The movie WALL-E portrayed our descendants as a super obese race, riding around on hovering chairs that give them a constant feed of TV and video chatting.  This does not strike me as entirely unrealistic, unfortunately.  However, the thing that doesn’t ring true about it goes back to my friend’s point…this is NOT a one-size-fits-all dilemma.  There will always be people who remain fit, engaged and proactive…and there will always be people who go down the slippery slope.  Is technology a Darwinian device in the end?
25 years ago, before the internet and cell phones, I used to work as a waitress in New York City.  I would sometimes observe people sitting across the table from each other not talking at all.  It fascinated me; of course, now that I have been married 17 years myself, it doesn’t seem so strange.  But remember the scene in When Harry Met Sally when they see each other for the first time after sleeping together and the silence is so awkward and deafening; then Harry says, “It is so nice when you can sit with someone and not have to talk. Hm?”  Ha!  Of course it is wonderful that in many of our long term relationships comfortable silence can become part of the landscape; those are the people whose company I jokingly refer to as “like being alone.  Only better.”  But one of the biggest shifts that has happened in my lifetime in terms of not only social engagement but also just day-to-day operations is that we have grown much less comfortable with silence, downtime and pauses.  We need to fill in all of the blank spaces, always be doing, doing, doing…this need for constant engagement has caused us to plug into the constant availability of technology.   Ironically again, that continual feedback ultimately has the effect of not only disengaging us from those around us, but also from ourselves.  It makes it harder to hear that “still, small voice”, harder to trust our instincts, more difficult to be in tune with our own intuition.

Of course, one of the main points my friend wanted to make is that when you are in a social situation staring at your phone you are just being rude and disrespectful, period.  This is absolutely true.  Generally speaking, technology isn’t going to make a kind and respectful person behave otherwise.  Today I had a car speed up behind me until he was practically on my bumper and as I pulled over to allow him by, I saw that he was in fact texting in addition to speeding.  He was going too fast for me to see if there was an open container as well, ha.  But this goes back to the Darwinian aspect of the tech revolution.  Just like drinking alcohol doesn’t make you an alcoholic, using technology does not make you one of the “hunchbacks” as Cynthia put it.  But again, as with alcohol, some people are more predisposed than others to go down that slippery slope.  As a writer, it is my bread and butter to be able to tune into my internal voice without being constantly distracted by the voices without.  Above all I need to trust my instincts more than my “likes”, if you know what I mean.   And I do think that this is what it boils down to:  if you need ceaseless validating feedback, you have lost your way.   Can you hear me now?   Technology has become a surrogate for self-worth, self-trust.   Technology IS the symptom…the disease is self-doubt.  Rumi, who knew nothing of Facebook, still managed to have some beautiful advice on this point:  "Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”   Our story is grown from the inside out, not the other way around.  And when we can hear ourselves, we have all the feedback we need.


















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