Are We Too Connected?
Being in my late 20s, I feel like I am at least somewhat on the cutting edge of technology and social media. I use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and all the websites that keep everyone aware of what their friends are doing, feeling, and eating.
I dutifully report in 140 characters or less how I feel about the subject that has drawn my ire for the day. The only thing I don’t use is MySpace, only because the short time I did have it I was inundated with messages from creepy men who left little to the imagination about what would happen if I did, indeed, accept their date invitation. I love technology; I think my iPhone and MacBook just might be my most prized possessions (sorry honey, I love my ring too). I love the internet; I frequent numerous blogs every day, notably the Village Voice, TMZ, and WetPaint for my television news (sorry, parents who paid for my college education; I also keep track of my finances and have learned to invest online)! I joined the new technology movement 100% because I refuse to be left behind in my career or social relationships; as it turned out, I quickly discovered technology is pretty freakin’ awesome and I can’t imagine (an enjoyable) life without it!
Growing up in Peoria, I can remember the evolution of the cell phone. It started in middle school (mid 90s) with the "car phone." Some of these phones could not be removed from the car but were there in case of emergencies; others could be removed from the car but were cumbersome (i.e. the “Zack Morris” phone).
I remember using this phone when I got my license and the car inexplicably broke down on my way to school (due to lack of gas). There were also pagers, where people could call you and enter their number and then you could call them back from whatever phone was closest (in the later 90s these were used mostly by prostitutes and drug dealers who have now switched to disposable phones like all savvy criminals). I remember calling a friend who had a pager to hang out. He called back an hour later and asked for bail money. Then, in high school (around 2000), came the cell phone, which looked like a small portable phone without the base. You could make calls, but I had not heard of texting yet. There was no Caller ID on this phone, so inevitable my heart would race when I heard the ring, hoping it was my crush. Instead, it was my laryngitis-riddled mother calling to tell me to come downstairs because dinner was ready. Then there was the flip phone with caller ID that could text, but there was no keyboard. I remember it taking 5 minutes to type “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” only to realize I was now pulling up to where I needed to be. That phone has now evolved into the Smartphones of today, where people use their phones for business, pleasure, and everything in between.
A couple days ago, though, a funny thing happened. My iPhone, which I had had for a few years, was doing screwy things. A message that said "This iPhone does not support (something or other)" was popping up every minute and the battery was draining within two hours. Needless to say, like every good junkie, I started shaking a bit. I found myself becoming nervous. I walked around my office purposefully until I found a co-worker who also had an iPhone. The conversation went a little like this:
I asked, talking quickly and anxiously.
"My phone is being really stupid. Do you know what this means?
"Yikes, no. What are you going to do?
The look of mild horror on his face as he responded only made my heart rate increase.
"I don’t know. Can I borrow your charger to see if it charges?
As I said this, he looked at my phone and then his charger, almost as if my phone had a contagious disease that he didn’t want to infect his accessory.
"Um, okay, you can try it, I guess.
I quickly tried the charger, which, of course, didn't charge the phone. I knew I only had mere hours until I was disconnected from everyone and everything I knew and loved. Never mind that I had an office phone and computer or that everyone around me had cell phones; this was an emergency of epic proportions! What if something amazing happened, and I had no phone to take a picture or video? What if a new Bachelorette spoiler story was released and I had no way of knowing? And then horror washed over me as I realized something appalling: No Words with Friends! At least fifteen people out there were going to be left hanging because of my phone’s careless decision. Never mind that most of them I hadn’t seen in person since 6th hour Biology; they were counting on me, and I was going to let them down, unless I acted fast.
I swiftly texted my fiancée to let him know the phone was acting up and well on the path of self-destruction. The response was casual and nonchalant and I realized I was in this alone; he did not catch on to the magnitude of the situation. I e-mailed family members and close friends to let them know the disheartening news. I could’ve texted but I wanted to save the little juice I had left. I spent the next hour doing work (how I managed to work at a time like that is beyond me; it’s amazing what the human body can do in times of crisis!). When I picked up my phone to check the time the screen was black, and I realized the unthinkable had happened: I was disconnected. As the fear washed over my body I tried to remain calm. I started on some tasks to keep my mind occupied so I wouldn’t notice the nagging feeling of doom.
I finished my work (an hour before I had to leave; that's a first!). I also caught up on my e-mails, organized my stock portfolio, and wrote gratitude notes from my child's first birthday (which was a month ago). I started to realize something surprising- I was far more productive without the phone! I decided to experiment and go the whole day without it or my computer (gasp!).
I figured that when I got home, there would be a home phone and my fiancee’s phone in case of emergency, so I didn’t need to rush to get one. I spent the day cooking, cleaning, and visiting with friends- in person! While I did get a tad anxious at times, overall I felt so much better. I was "off the grid," which felt so freeing; I had been emancipated from technology for a day, and it felt good. My nightcap was playing on the floor with my child. I noticed something somewhat disconcerting: My one-year-old was looking for the phone, which he was so used to being in my hand. Yes, we had made a game over the months of him trying to snatch it and me, in turn, hiding it. Mostly, though, I was used to being on it when he was occupied with a toy, when I should’ve been interacting with him. It genuinely saddened to me to realize what I had been unknowingly doing, which was choosing the phone over quality time with him. I vowed then and there that I would put my phone on my charger when I got home every night and not look at it again until I went to bed.
"I was "off the grid," which felt so freeing; I had been emancipated from technology for a day, and it felt good.
What started as a horrible event turned out, for me, to be one of the most valuable lessons I had ever learned. I love technology and I think the internet is the most powerful forum in the world. It can uncover abuses and injustices and spread it to millions in minutes. Unfortunately, it can also breed inaccurate information and ridiculous rumors. It can connect you with people far away that you would have otherwise missed. Unfortunately, it can also keep you from those that are sitting right next to you. It can connect you to millions but disconnect you for your closest family and friends. So, my dear friends, remember to spend time with the ones you love face-to-face. And think about spending a day disconnected; it really could change your outlook on life. You might just realize that you have a loved one that you have taken for granted- and no, I’m not talking about the cell phone!