Well, here’s what I think about being unplugged.
I love it. I love to be unplugged, to wax philosophically over what our nation’s ultra-connectedness is perhaps doing to our children, to our elders, to the society at large, to the shape of our culture forever and ever, Amen. We talk about it often, at dinner parties or conferences or playdates.
And the rest of the time, the lady in the gynecology lobby reprimands us for texting our sister and we blush knowingly.
You kids these days, she’d said. Can’t see past your screen, I tell ya.
She’s right, I think.
She’s wrong, I think.
Last week, I used my phone to schedule vaccinations for an upcoming trip to Haiti. I made my family’s dentist appointments. I sent flowers to a girlfriend. I wrote an early birthday message to my friend in California, I checked in on a friend in London, another in Iceland.
I booked dinner reservations and a hotel. I ordered dishwasher refills.
And then I put my phone in my purse and sat on the park bench as Ken finished his conversation by the maple tree.
We can complain about our phones, our addictions, our inability to disconnect from the screen for hours. We can blame technology for the wrong ways we use it.
Or we can, simply, change the ways we use it.
I used to be curmudgeony about my phone. I’d leave it at home for days in a row, letting it ding and vibrate and flash unanswered. It was a bother, a chore. A distraction.
And then it fell in the toilet (gah, I know).
And I changed my mind.
It’s easier to complain about others than it is to complain about ourselves. The expectations are too high. I can’t keep up. Now I have to Periscope? And no way, I can’t quit Facebook; I’d be too out of the loop.
Listen. Join Periscope, or don’t. (I chose not to, for now.) Quit Facebook, or don’t. (I quit four years ago and haven’t looked back.)
It’s your choice.
We can continue to blame technology for our lack of self-governing, or we can choose to be grateful for the mobility it offers.
I often wonder what I’m doing with the time I’ve saved using my phone. I can order rain boots for Bee through an app and they arrive two days later, wrapped in cardboard, straight to my door.
Did I save any time?
Or did I simply replace it with something else?
There’s a woman at the coffee shop I write from, and she told me yesterday she used to walk two miles to the bakery for a loaf of fresh bread, and she’d eat it the whole way home. The walk makes up for the calories, she’d said. It’s like you’re eating air!
Her sister used to give her a hard time, saying it was so much faster, cheaper, more efficient to bake bread at home.
But how much does your gym cost? she asked her once. And they don’t even serve bread!
Sometimes I think my phone is the gym.
Sometimes I forgot to see the value in doing things the long way, in walking the two miles, in visiting the thrift store to look for rain boots with Bee, to introduce her to my favorite sections in Goodwill (flannel shirts from the mens’ aisle, milk glass in kitchenware, old VHS tapes for weird gift-giving).
Sometimes I forget I have the choice.
Ken’s finished with his call by the maple tree. Can I take a second to transfer this, or do you want to hit the bank on the way home? he asks.
Let’s hit the bank, I tell him. I like their coffee.
It’s not about plugging in, or unplugging, or tethering ourselves to a movement that calls for technology within boundaries.
It’s about choosing wisely. It’s about understanding that life offers stress, one way or another. Plugged or not.
I think we tend to airbrush the lives of the generations before us. I think we romanticize the burden of laundering by hand, sudsing with dollysticks and soda crystals. We love the idea of ditching modern appliances, of going the way of the land, of fireboxes and gas lighting, of dampers and hatch.
It sounds lovely, we think.
But it’s not our reality.
When life offered our grandmothers electricity and modern appliances, they found something else to fret about. Chores. Consumerism. Higher expectations. We’re slaves to the machine!
When life offered our mothers career opportunities outside of the home, they found something else to fret about. Parenting. Equality. Higher expectations. We’re slaves to the machine!
And when life has offered us technology and mobility, we have found something else to fret about. Balance. Multi-tasking. Higher expectations. We’re slaves to the machine!
But we’re not slaves. We cannot shackle ourselves and hand the key to our phone or the dishwasher or the CEO in the corner office.
We cannot offer that kind of power to the machine.
It does not belong to them.
It belongs to us.