Unplugged

IMG_0083My favorite part of getting my hair done has always been the chance to sit quietly in the salon, reading magazines with absolutely no literary merit while I’m waiting for the color to set.  I don’t have to talk to anyone; I don’t have to remember a word I’m reading; I can just sit and relax for a good forty minutes or so in an oasis of self-centered tranquility, with the added bonus of knowing that by the time I leave, my grey roots will be nothing more than a bad memory. Unless, of course, I forget to turn my cell phone off.

Because when I leave my phone on, someone is sure to call or text, or I’ll hear the familiar ding that lets me know I have a new email, and instead of having my peaceful “me time,” I find myself compulsively checking my phone to see just who wants me to deal with what.  And, of course, answering those texts and emails, or making a mental note to return a call. (I refuse to be one of those people who holds loud, personal conversations on a cell phone in a public place.)

Similarly, almost every morning when I get up, no matter how much I’m rushing around to get out the door on time, I sit down in front of my computer and check my emails, my Facebook page and my blog page.  I answer the emails, reply to or “like” comments on Facebook, and answer any comments on my blog.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to do this at the start of my day, but it has become as much a part of my morning routine as the Diet Coke I drink every morning.  Sometimes what I read on the computer screen makes me smile and starts my day off on a positive note, but other days I read about problems and issues that are very stressful, and I find myself irritated and crabby before I’ve even had breakfast.

I struggle to find a balance between the instant (and constant) connectedness that our technology provides and my need to have some personal space, or a chance to pay attention to what, or who, is right in front of me.  I’m not going to lie, I like the way social media lets me communicate with old and faraway friends, and I get a kick out of seeing their photos and sharing memories.  I value the way I can so easily get in contact with my someone when I need to (remember the old days, when we had to find a pay phone if we wanted to call someone when we were out and about?) My cell phone also makes me feel safer, since I know I can always call for help in an emergency.

But that doesn’t mean I want to be available to other people all the time.  I don’t want someone calling or texting me when I’m out to dinner with my husband or friends, when I’m finally, after a long session at the Humane Society, sitting down to a very late lunch, or when I’m trying to concentrate on my writing.  I don’t need to know instantly how many people liked my latest Facebook post, or even how many people have read my most recent blog post.  And I hate the fact that I have to remind myself of that, each and every time I hear my phone ding, or notice that I have 12 unread emails on my computer.

Maybe it’s because I tend to be compulsive, or maybe it’s because I’m a worrier (I don’t want to ignore a true emergency), but I know that I have to figure out a better way to live with my digital connections.  I have to find that balance between communicating with others and finding the time I need just to live my life in the here and now.  I know that’s not going to happen over night, but I’m going to try to do better.  I have a hair appointment this Tuesday morning, and the minute I sit down in the stylist’s chair, I’m turning my cell phone off.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I Don’t Want To Sound Old, But….

As a middle-aged woman, I don’t really think of myself as “old.” There are moments when I feel my age and think the nursing home is just around the corner, but that’s mostly when I forget what I’m talking about in mid-sentence, or I’m being pulled along by a big shelter dog and find myself telling the dog to remember that there is an old lady on my end of the leash.  But mostly, I don’t think of myself as being old yet, and I don’t want other people to think I’m old, either.  Which is why I make an effort to keep certain opinions to myself.

I know one of the quickest ways to sound old is to talk about how much better things used to be.  Phrases like “kids today just don’t understand…” or “we never had that when I was young, and we got along just fine without it” are usually uttered by actual senior citizens.  And I don’t mean that as a criticism.  The world has changed so quickly and dramatically that I understand why older people might prefer a time that is more familiar to them.  Still, I don’t want to talk like an old person when I’m only fifty-seven.

So it’s hard for me to admit that I do sometimes long for “the good old days.”  Especially when it comes to technology, and most especially when it comes to cell phones.  Obviously, they are wonderful devices and I do like their ability to keep me connected to my friends and family (even those far away), to take and share photos almost instantly, to easily access the internet, and to summon help in an emergency.  There’s a reason almost everyone has a cell phone.

DSC00209But that doesn’t mean I want to look in my rearview mirror and see the driver behind me is looking down at his phone rather than at the road ahead of him.  Or that I want to hear the loud, boring conversation of the person next to me in the check out line. Or that I enjoy traveling with a friend who is busy scrolling through her cell phone rather than talking to the other people in the car.  And there is nothing so creepy as sitting in a roomful of people who are all ignoring each other as they stare intently at their cell phones, their faces slightly illuminated from the reflection of their screens.

I admit that I’ve pulled my cell phone out in the middle of a restaurant dinner with my husband, just to make sure I haven’t missed an important text or email, and I can only imagine how special that makes him feel.  Although I’ve never done it, (and never will do it) I have been tempted to check my phone when I’m stopped at a red light and hear the little “ding” that indicates a new text.

It seems to me that my cell phone, handy as it is, is also robbing me of the ability to just live in the moment and simply deal with what and who is right in front of me.  I may be with a person who is special to me, but I’ve just got to answer that text or check for that important email, right?  Sure I do….  I’ve come to realize that I have a love/hate relationship with my phone.  I love what it can do for me, but I sometimes hate what it does to me.

So at the risk of sounding old, I admit that there are times when I think, “we didn’t have cell phones when I was young, and we got along just fine without them!”  Even so,  I doubt I’ll be trading my cell phone in for an old-fashioned rotary phone anytime soon.

Left Behind: technology and me

I’ve spent the past two days trying to update the look of this blog, scanning through endless computer screens of information about sharing, plug-ins, widgets, Gravatars, child-themes and lots of other terms I’ve never heard of before.  While I did manage to add an archive sidebar (that’s a “widget,” who would have thought?) to make past posts more accessible, somehow I also put my Gravatar profile on my “about me” page and couldn’t figure out how to get it back off.   And when I finally did figure it out, it also removed the photo I had so carefully uploaded (I was wearing big, dark sunglasses, of course) as well.  So, I’m taking a temporary break from the struggle to do what I actually understand and enjoy when it comes to blogging:  just writing the posts.

I don’t really know when all my troubles with technology started.  I was still working when computers began to make their way into offices, and I don’t remember having any problems learning to use them.  At the time, I was working in development, generating donor profiles.  And since the profiles constantly needed to be updated, I really appreciated how much easier computers made my job.  Later, as an at-home mom and free-lance writer, I was thrilled to get my first computer since it made writing and editing so much easier.  No more “whiting out” mistakes and trying to find a new word exactly the same size as the whited-out word so I didn’t have to retype the whole page!

Maybe I started resenting technology the first time my computer “lost” a carefully written article.  Or when I had to ask one of my kids to show me how to answer my new phone.  Or the first time I tried to text (in the days before phones had keyboards, and you had to use the phone’s number buttons to punch in the letters.)  I have learned how to use google to find a quick answer to an obscure question, I understand the concept of wi-fi, and I’ve managed to start a blog.  But I’m still not half as tech savvy as my son or daughter.  And I strongly suspect that the average 8-year old has much better tech skills than I do.

And that’s so unfair.  One of the few advantages of growing older is supposed to be gaining wisdom.  Wisdom that you can then pass down to younger generations, who are supposed to appreciate it and respect you for your great knowledge.  But that doesn’t happen when you have to text your daughter while she’s at work to ask her how to turn the sound on your phone back on. Technology may have brought many gifts, but it has also brought one very depressing thing:  the ability to seem both old and clueless at the same time.

So I struggle on, in the hope that someday I will master enough tech skills to feel that I am indeed wise.  Meanwhile, I have to find what happened to that profile picture.  And how to change that ugly orange and brown header to a nice shade of blue.  I’ll let you know how it goes….