The World We’ve Created


Months ago, I am stuck in San Luis Obispo. The plane needs this one part, says the attendant. We had to order it. Might be here Thursday?

It is Sunday.

The airport is small, and a sudden swarm of indignation thickens the air. We have homes, we argue. Lives! Babies who need our care, aging parents or deadlines, a sister’s pregnancy, a dentist appointment. The airport’s solution is firm: the plane will be grounded until Thursday, but perhaps there’s a connection we can catch? Something in L.A., or SFO?

Passengers confirm rental cars, share rides, get out of dodge. New itineraries are set, family members notified. I’m re-routed to Dallas on a different plane the next afternoon, a final ETA just two-and-a-half days later.

Do you have anything sooner? I ask with little hope.

You can grab an Uber to LAX, maybe take the train? But we can’t reimburse you, the attendant tells me. It’s a mechanical thing, you know? Maybe try Uber?

I tell the attendant I don’t have the Uber app. He is just shy of 19 years old, he will later tell me. Having been raised and steeped in screened conveniences, he can’t possibly imagine the thought. I have said something outlandish, recklessly revealing, something akin to oh, I don’t know, I’m anti-toothbrush.

Everyone has Uber, he says.

I don’t, I counter.

He is completely gobsmacked, eyes smiling, laughing now, howling behind the counter at the sheer insanity of the idea. He calls his buddies, motions over to the ground crew.

But how do you get anywhere? says his friend.

In our postmodern society, we are quick to point out the many ways technology connects us to the larger world around us. We read newsletters from Ghana. We Zoom with grandparents. We watch live feeds of the moon, take neighborhood walks to Les Baladeurs, tour the Rijksmuseum. Technology makes our world better, we say. Brighter! Expansive! Bigger!

And it does. 

But sometimes, it doesn’t.

Last month, the sun at high noon, I take my children to an air-conditioned exhibit downtown to witness the works of Van Gogh. Panels of fabric strung ceiling-high, each comprised of over 4 trillion content pixels, Vincent’s visionary pieces are projected into an immersive gallery of wonder. For hours, we walk in, around, and through the Dutch countryside, swim in the Starry Night, lay in beds of a hundred sunflowers. 

Here we sit, cross-legged on a cold coliseum floor, entranced and captivated, not yet aware we are holding our breath. My daughter pulls out her notebook to furiously capture Van Gogh’s quotes, thoughts, ideas from his life – or at least the one that is projected before us. My son holds out his hand to catch a flitting bird, a falling petal. We gaze upon painting after painting, full of life and beauty and madness. We are awed, and technology has made it all possible.

As we round the corner to the exit, I realize we are not alone. There is a mother filming an Instagram video of her toddler spinning in wildflowers, a gaggle of preteens texting as they wait for their parents to leave. An influencer completing a quick outfit change amidst the brushstrokes of The Potato Eaters.

Technology broadens our experiences. But what will broaden our capacity to actually be in those experiences? To witness them? To see them, to live them, to attest to their reality? How can we begin to reject the idea that we must capture a moment so that maybe, possibly, wonderfully we might allow a moment to capture us?

In an increasingly digital age, the world we’ve created is bigger than ever.

But at times, it’s so big that we can’t see what’s right in front of us.

After two extra days in San Luis Obispo, I finally deplane in the Midwest. It is late, dark, cold. I am unshowered and worse for the wear, and I am wondering what the state of my fridge is back home. Is a quick grocery run in order? Can I make do until the morning? Scrounge up some toast, maybe Yorkshire?

As I join the passengers in a single-file line to wait for for our gate-checked bags, I spot a man in a wheelchair. He’s parked directly in front of the terminal’s open door, the snow swirling just outside.

Are you cold? I ask. Can I move you up here where it’s warmer?

He nods, thanks me, starts rattling off how much he hates ‘bein in this darned thing when ain’t nobody paying any attention to nobody else no more.

I look around, and I see what we all see when we line up in airports and weave through grocery stores and wait for fancy chais. A sea of heads, looking down, lost in a world of our making, one that is as manufactured as it is manipulated by unseen forces beyond our knowledge – but moreso, our control.

You’re right, I tell him, and for a moment, that’s enough. Two people with flip phones in their pockets, witnessing a world that has spiraled us all into an orbit we recognize but don’t want to.

Soon, his wife joins us. Stay here, Stanley, she says. I gotta see if I can get us an Uber.



In what ways have you witnessed a changed society in light of the ubiquitous nature of technology? What areas of tech feel the hardest for your family to set boundaries around? Any creative solutions you’re testing out in your homes? I’d love to hear! 

  • I am originally from San Luis Obispo. Or, should I say, 20 miles north and I wonder if you happened to somehow get 10 miles south to Shell Beach? The sunsets are among the most beautiful in the world.

    I was in that very airport two weeks ago, from DFW, as I was preparing for my father’s memorial service. He was a Superior Court judge in the county for decades, quite some time ago.

    I took my Mom to the Van Gogh exhibit on her 82nd birthday, less than two weeks before she passed away. The Hospice nurse thought I was nuts…I rarely comment on blogs, but I always love your words and felt surprisingly connected to them tonight.

    Thank you.

    • What a beautiful coincidence (I don’t believe in coincidences!)! :) I’m so sorry for your mother’s loss, Robin, and I’m smiling wide as I picture how beautiful she would have looked among the starry skies. What a WONDERFUL memory you’ll share forever.

      Sending peace your way,

      (And I didn’t get to Shell Beach, but I’ll be back next spring! I’ll have to make it there for certain! Thank you for the tip!)

  • I love your posts. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful voice and meaningful thoughts with us. I can’t wait for your book!

  • Erin, I eagerly await your new book. I was off of all socials for over a decade until I wrote a book and it seemed necessary to get back on to share it with the world. Although getting back on socials did (I think) help to promote the book and get it in the hands of readers it sent me into a spiral of confusion. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and experiencing in this foreign social world. After 15 months I got back off, deleted everything.

    I liked my life better without it.

    What I realized quickly after shutting it down was that I had become addicted to clicking on these oddly loud in the quietest of ways socials. I did persevere though and have been clean of socials again for over 90 days. I feel my calm coming back and I welcome it.

    Always love seeing your name in my inbox 🧡

    Happy Fall 🍂

    • Oh Heather, I can so relate! Publishing houses tend to encourage platforming and constant social churning, and truly, I’ve always bristled against that idea. I’m grateful my publisher has given me the green light to promote this book without reactivating any of my old social media channels, so I’ll let you know how it goes! If anything, I’ll be far more peaceful throughout launch and beyond. :)

  • I love the idea of “out of sight, out of mind”. I love all that my phone offers me. I can talk to my parents who live far away, I learn new skills on YouTube all the time, and I take photos of the children at work and share them with their parents every day! I also love how it feels to be completely separate from my phone whenever I go for a walk or out to dinner with friends. There is time for phones, but when it is not time to be on your phone, I wish we all put them securely away. The in-between of checking it and being distracted in moments of connection is upsetting.

    • I love that feeling of out of sight, out of mind, too. My smartphone used to live in a drawer and I found that I “needed” it less and less! Admittedly, it could be there for days! I often tell friends I’m better at answering my door than my phone, so just come on over! :)

  • I would love to go back to a flip phone! Is that all you have…and a computer? Laptop? Our children are 11, 9, 8, 6, 3 and 1….no computer in our home. No technology for them – but just a TV screen (no wifi) and a rather large collection of VHS’s:) We often slip on our boundaries but try to stick to a Movie Sunday…when they can binge on Lion King and Flubber and Honey I Shrunk The Kids;):). It’s been easy telling the kids NO to technology. But for myself…I’d like to step back as well. I’m so so excited for your new book, I can hardly wait until next June! I’m always looking for something to nudge me hard enough to throw my iPhone13? away for good – I also don’t have the Uber app and don’t plan to get it;).

    • I love this, Casey! We do have a laptop, yes, and I love the idea of Movie Sunday with old VHS. :) And I love that you’ve found it easy to tell the kids no to technology!!! What a gift that will be for them as they age to have a rich set of tech-free memories to draw from as they reflect on childhood and decide what they want in the future ahead.

      And I found the same in my experience – it was so easy to tell my kids no to technology that I began to question why I even said yes myself? In most cases: what’s healthy for the kids is healthy for us, as well.

      And thank you for the encouragement on the book! I can’t wait to share it with you! :)

  • Your post made me think of an observation I had recently in my university town here in the UK. I had a day out of the classroom to attend a CPD course across town and my commute coincided with the town’s students pouring out of their digs and walking down to their 9am lecture. What struck me with such sadness was that 85% of them were walking head down peering at phones on a beautiful autumn morning whilst striding cheek by jowl with one another. I commented to my husband that night that ‘it was different in our day’ when you would smile and maybe even chat to someone en route (don’t get me started on train ride stranger chats in the 1990s). I’m saddened by the normalisation of this and welcome this space to reflect upon it.

    • I couldn’t agree more — our local school bus stop is eerily silent now, with the kids lining up single file and lost in their own devices. No laughter or movement or conversation. I always think I’m just the oldie clutching her pearls and saying “Kids these days!” but I do mourn that we’ve created a world for them in which experiencing those simple pleasures of small talk, surprising connections, deepening relationships is less and less common.

  • Erin, I’m so excited for your book! I gave up social media when my son was a newborn 2.5 years ago & haven’t gone back. I still noticed I was spending time googling things on Safari so I took everything off my phone except texting, calls, and the camera. One way I see society changed towards technology is wanting to over-document life with photos and videos (myself included). I was a wedding photographer for 7 years so it’s hard for me to discern when to experience a moment & when to whip out my phone and take a video (I make a 4-6 minute highlight of all the kids home videos that they get to watch on their birthday morning). So I know even if I take a video, only 3-5 seconds of that video is used in the highlight later on. I’m curious if you have a flip phone how you document photos of your family and how you choose to just experience a moment v.s. document it.

    • I like this so much, Megg! And I couldn’t agree more re: documentation. I find that my litmus test for whether or not I want a photo is: Would I hang this moment on my living room wall? If so, it’s worth getting out the point-and-shoot camera! If not, I allow myself to just take the moment in. (Many studies show we remember moments MORE when we don’t photograph them? Isn’t that wild?) I also journal liner notes every evening so I have many stories and highlights to share with the kids as they age, and I do still keep an email address for my kids where I send them important artwork or projects they’re working on, funny quotes they’ve said, character milestones they’ve reached. (They’ll get access to this email address when they’re 16, so for now, it’s still a surprise!). But I love your idea of a bday highlight video – what a thing they’ll treasure someday, and a great way to encourage you to document with intention!

  • I feel this in my bones. I want to badly to run away from it all… and yet, and yet… Technology had provided me (and my family) with greater access to better resources, broader and deeper insights, unlikely inspiration, and unexpected connections – but it has simultaneously shortened our attention spans and sucked up our time. We turn to it when we’re bored or when we subconsciously seek to forget our finitude and mortality. How to find a balance? Are the costs really worth the rewards?

    • That’s the question, isn’t it, Clare? I can SO relate. And I love this line you stated: “we subconsciously seek to forget our finitude and mortality.” Tech certainly makes us feel as if we can do much more than our limited human capacity allows, and so, when we remove it, there’s an initial feeling of listlessness, unproductivity, or underperformance. But that goes away faster than I realized, and I know this won’t be everyone’s experience, but for me, the rewards on the other side – clearer focus and perspective on what matters most – has been far worth it.

      I remember ditching social media years ago and feeling like I’d be less informed. BUT, surprisingly, I am far more informed now! I read the newspaper when I can, and I find that a great conversation starter to ask people is what they’re reading about in the news. I find that they’re always open to sharing, and often can sum up the main points and tensions better than 400 people on Twitter. :) Plus, the discourse is richer without the assumption that we know where everyone is coming from. In short: it’s been such a welcome change over here!

  • so interesting reading what everyone else wrote .. here on ‘technology’ .. that’s the part i love .. seeing broad personal expression and feeling that connection on a bigger scale .. i am of an age that i over half my working life was sans internet/socials .. and i do see how i have become accustomed to scrolling or checking in or researching ‘when i have a few extra minutes’ .. some of it’s good, some of it not so much .. one thing that always stands out to me is the use of gps to get places .. i still use a map .. i wonder what would happen if that app failed or disappeared altogether how many would find ‘point b’ .. congratulations on your book .. you do have a way with words :)

    • Thank you, Dawn — I’m re-learning to use a map over here, too! It’s admittedly a skill that has been unpracticed for so long! But I find people are more than willing to help point me in the right direction when I’m lost. :)

  • “I’m anti-toothbrush “!
    Thank you for the laugh…. omg I can’t stop …that is wonderful !
    We are replacing our 15 year old’s smart phone with a flip phone!!!

  • Thank you that you continue to write and capture feelings and moments so vividly! I’ve caught myself capturing simple moments like stopping for donuts this morning with my 4 year old and drinking a little chocolate milk – it slowed me down to see the preciousness of a moment.

  • So true, Erin. I find it baffling to see concert goers viewing a live concert through their I-phone screens rather than looking up at the stage. Sad, too.

  • Oh man! How hasn’t society changed with the computers in our pockets? I don’t mind limited screens in my house for my son, but he does not have access to the internet and we use things like video games to connect and play with each other. We also do a lot of other things too. But I will definitely not be allowing him a phone. I think it is important to find like minded friends on this front. Now my own social media use has gotten better, but it’s much easier to say no to my son than it is for me to say no to myself?
    I don’t think I can go to a flip phone as I love to listen to audiobooks in the car and while doing chores. And I am really good at not using my phone with others. It’s just during my downtime I get distracted. I think I will remove Safari and email from my phone and then I will probably spend less time on there.
    The parents constantly documenting everything their kids do is what really frustrates me. I saw a YouTube video years ago about personal family photography that has really stuck with me: “you are trying to create a poem, not a logbook.” And I just love that idea! I’m also very analog and love using my old film cameras.
    Anyway, some of my rambling thoughts on this topic. I always enjoy your writing and thoughts, so thank you for sharing and let us know when we can preorder your book! :)

    • Victoria! This is one of the BEST ways I’ve heard family documentation described: “you are trying to create a poem, not a logbook.” What a beautiful sentiment! Thank you for sharing it with me! And I love that you’re fighting to find exactly what works in your home. Isn’t it funny that the moment we figure one thing out, the game changes entirely? :)

  • I missed you! I discovered you last year and I spent all my time reading your blog and looking for new articles and I couldn’t find it, I thought, how am I discovering something so good just when you no longer write anything? I subscribed to your newsletter to see if I ever saw you coming back, but that wasn’t the case… until today! What happiness!

    Thank you for coming back and sharing your experiences and your words, I love how you write!
    Regards from Mexico. (sorry for my English)

    • Oh I’m delighted to have you here, Vero, and thank you for being patient with me while I visit here slowly but surely! :)

  • I am always a tad giddy when I see an email in in my inbox from you. Your writing always connects with me and I deeply appreciate your perspective and thoughts.
    In 2011-12, my husband and I lived in southern Germany, thanks to the Fulbright program. He was the recipient of a Fulbright grant for his Ph.D dissertation reaearch. We were young (in our 30s!), and did not yet have children. We shared a flat with 90-something year old woman. One of the only Germans we met who didn’t speak fluent English , she was both a language teacher and living history lesson for us, having been in her twenties during World War 2. Her mind was sharp and she was rarely in a hurry, so I spent a lot of time sitting at her table, drinking tea , and chatting .

    I remember her telling me one afternoon, as she darned a pair of socks, that modern appliances such as vacuum cleaners and dishwashers, have made our lives more convenient, but also more stressed. I remember I wondered why, and she went on to explain how frantic and hurried we all are. We have so much time, in a way, because basic living has been made easier , but we also all have so much less time for the same reason.

    This is wisdom I often refer back to when I think about technology, and my smart phone in particular. “Wow, I can accomplish so much , so fast!” And yet, “Wow, I have ever more to do and so much less time to be a friend , a mother , a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a neighbor, a human , to simply be.

    I have not opted out of technology (though I did opt out of social media years ago) , but I am constantly reexamining my use of it , and the ways it has made me more frantic and distracted. I am trying to guard my children from it as much as I can , and it feels so complicated to do so.

    One small step I have taken recently is to intentionally leave my phone in my bag when we are out in the world, so that I’m not , as you reference, capturing a moment more than letting a moment in the actual, physical world capture us, with all of our senses engaged.

    I’m full of fits and starts and contradictions when it comes to technology. Can’t wait for your book!

  • I feel that we are invaded by technology. During each family gathering, I ammore convinced that technology has destroyed the most beautiful moments in our life, each one is concentrated on his own mobile surfing from application to another, texting his or her friends while the most dears are sitting beside them ignored, maybe they share some words from time to time, but in fact, the thought is elsewhere. Technology has facilitated our life from one side, but also ruined the most important human values such as relationships discussions, sharing and care. I am not against technological advancement, but against the overuse and addiction to social media and artificial intelligence which threats humanity’s future.

  • Ugh… I’m trying with all my might not to loathe what the majority has become. It’s everywhere and it’s concerning how few are concerned. Sigh….

    I was very sad that I missed the Van Gogh show exhibit when it was in our area but glad I missed the people.

  • Dearest Erin,
    Wonderful news learning you are in the final stages of birthing your latest book baby!!! On a topic that we have shared about in the past – our love/hate relationship with technology. A binary I wish I could toss away forever.
    I didn’t grow up with such devices in the 60’s – consequently I didn’t learn to speak ‘tech’ or comprehend it. I have never had an itch to engage with any social platforms – yet using technology has helped me to connect (via email) with women like yourself half a continent away.. Lately though, I am increasingly upset with how I am being forced to use technology. This past summer I felt forced in order to secure a mortgage. When I decided to return to university this fall to finish my undergraduate degree (at age 68) I found everything requires using technology. Along with the school work I am learning what I never wanted to learn. Unfortunately I can’t go forward without learning to use technology. Which brings me to questions I have shared with you before:
    Who wants us to engage with technology? What cultures/institutions and systems are we supporting when we do? And what are the consequences if we do or don’t engage in technology?
    I’m sure there are many answers – but I’ll leave you with a reading I was recently assigned by Nelle Morton – an excerpt ‘Hearing to Speech’ from a 1977 essay ‘Beloved Image’ . Its from her book ‘The Journey is Home’. Don’t be fooled by the date of her writing – I found her words on point for today.
    She speaks about women being liberated – why not liberation from technology? Women like yourself are liberated when we choose new ways and meanings to use technology. Your ‘littles’ experienced the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit that used technology as an art tool. Choosing new uses and meanings is a form of resistance.
    Erin, I encourage you to continue on your path of resistance – by ‘hearing to speech’ through your writing which nourishes so many of us!!! You give us courage to use technology differently, not ignore it but refashion it into an art form to create beauty rather than oppression.
    Huge Hugs!!!!

  • I love reading all these comments! I’m curious which flip phone you went with?

  • Dear Erin,
    I have enjoyed reading all your articles. I do agree with you that technology has made the lives easier and difficult at the same time. the social media helps to connect us to all and yet at the dining table you are soooo disconnected with your family. Nobody looks up while walking, heads buried in the cell phones. at a restaurant by the time your order arrives everyone is typing furiously. I feel a getaway with no internet connectivity would be the only solution to get to talk to your kids. God forgive me but there was a flood like situation in our city three years back with no electricity and no school, no office. That was the best spent time as we played board games together, huddled together in the dark at nights we sang songs. Ah, to love and hate TECH at the same time, sounds more like being married, doesn’t it ?

  • As always, your words line up with my life experiences and induce inspiration. I’m trying to stay awake in the middle of the night to nurse my first born, 8 weeks old. He’s the apple of everyone’s eye – first grandson for both sides of the family, absolutely adorable, and shocking in size (unexpectedly 10lb 9oz at birth). Phone cameras have been increasingly more in his face as he learns to smile, coo, track, and I don’t want him to see just boxes blocking our face. I don’t want to only see him through the videoing. I’m afraid of forgetting even the tiniest detail so I document it but then I realize it won’t be the memory I remember but the picture. I want the memory to be what I remember. You’ve reinforced my commitment to set the documenting down and be captured by the moment.

    Chasing Slow was my introduction to you, my mom found it at a garage sale and gave it to me back in 2017. Im extremely excited for your upcoming book and the wonderful timing of anticipating raising my own child in this teched out world!

  • Erin – I love this topic and am looking forward to your new book!

    If it weren’t for the fact that we are expats and live far from family, I think I would return to a humble flip phone… I quit all social media except IG (where I don’t post but follow friends, family, and some inspiring accounts). It’ so much better with just one social media outlet to pay attention to (and only when I want to).

    I have a love/ hate relationship with technology. I love how it connects me with family and friends at home (am thankful for Whatsapp every single day!), but I don’t like how it “sped up” life. Now, it seems like every single moment must be spent on something on our phones, just because that’s possible (podcasts, to do lists, read the news, answer messages, shop, work…)

    I miss the slow moments from before smartphones. Also now that we have a kid and he knows about phones, it’s hard to maintain boundaries around it. But we try our best and luckily there are many options to limit screen time. But I feel like it was simpler when we were small and the technology just didn’t exist. We had one tv show for which we had to wait every evening, and for the rest were bored and made up our own games :)

    Can’t wait to read your insights on this important topic!

  • Erin. Here I am, typing a reply from my phone, completely understanding where you’re coming from. Routers, wires, wireless, data, chargers, gigs, apps, texts, gifs, emojis, platforms, influencers, and the acronyms keep us in a FOMO stranglehold. What’s heaven for me? A spontaneous drive leaving my phone at home, a walk without earbuds, a cocktail sipped on my porch without Alexa, or a podcast free bubble bath, all pure bliss. Technology’s ubiquity is here to stay. I just fear we’re losing the battle, creating a society that can’t connect unless there’s a screen involved. What a fleeting connection that is.

  • This summer my twelve year old grandson spent five weeks (two weeks at the beginning of summer and three weeks before he started school) with us. My daughter forwarded me the summer reading and subject review. I set about developing a blank block schedule for him that was broken into thirty minute increments. At the bottom of the schedule was a list of what he needed to accomplish each day and how much time required. His job was to decide how to accomplish each task during the day. This was a learning curve for him and many valuable lessons were learned. The biggest lesson was that time management for tackling less desirable tasks is best served earlier in the day and leaving the more favored tasks for later. The other lesson he learned is that he did not feel the need to be digitally connected all day just because it was summer. There were many other ways to enjoy free time than glazed eyes on a flat screen.

  • What a lovely story!

    I go back and forth almost daily on how I feel about technology. On the one hand, I think it makes us feel more divided than we actually are. We spend more and more time in our echo chambers, consuming content that reflects our bias. I think if we had more real-live conversations, we would see we actually agree on more than we think. But on the other hand, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and especially for the next generation, this is the world they live in. I worry about all the regular things, online bullying or scams, mental health issues, loneliness., sleep.. POSTURE! I have the most success with the kids when I wear these boundaries like a loose garment. I don’t want them to feel shame around their use/enjoyment of technology, but I also want them to understand the dangers and pay attention to how a particular piece of tech is affecting their mind and body.

    For myself, I set boundaries around social media. I don’t have the apps on my phone and only check in 1x/day. For the kids, (12, 10, and 9 months), They don’t have social media, the 12-year-old has an Apple watch, but no phone yet, no iPads/video games/YouTube during the week. Eventually, when they get phones, they will be plugged in my room at night. I can restrict all I want at home, but they have to go out in the world and figure out what works for them. I also want them to learn to trust their own judgment.

    This is all to say that I don’t know what’s the best way to manage technology in my life except to be open to adjusting when something isn’t working.

    Thank you again for all you do here. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and love your writing. I’m in my third year of A Year of Reflection, and I get so much out of those prompts every week. Can’t wait for the new book!

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