Disconnected

Call me cheap, but on my recent trip to Ireland, I simply turned my phone off rather than risk paying enormous roaming charges while I was out of the country.  Like many people, I’ve grown very dependent on my cell phone, using it for phone calls, emails, texts and even taking and sharing photos.  I was a little nervous about going without my phone for so long  (what if there was an emergency and my family or the dog-sitter needed to reach me?), but my husband did have a phone that he could use to his check emails, and even make a (very expensive) emergency call if necessary.  So, as soon as we boarded the plane for Dublin, I turned off my phone, stuck it in the bottom of my purse, and vowed to just forget about it until I was back home.

I’d like to say that my phone stayed in the bottom of my purse for the entire time I was in Ireland, and that I always gave my full attention to that beautiful and interesting country.  But that wasn’t what happened.  I found myself reaching for it again and again, purely from habit, whenever I had a spare minute or two.  We’d board a train to travel to a new city, and as soon as we had settled into our seats, I’d reach in my purse and pull out my phone.  Then I’d remember that it was off and couldn’t be turned on, and quickly shove it back in my purse, hoping that nobody had noticed what I’d done.  I’d do the same thing when we were seated at a restaurant or pub, waiting for our food to come, and when we returned to our hotel room for a short break from sightseeing.  It was kind of embarrassing.

Eventually, as the week wore on, the fact that I was without a functioning cell phone finally sunk in.  I found myself not reaching for it anymore, or at least not as often.  And gradually, I not only got used to not having my phone turned off, I actually began to enjoy it.  True, my husband and I did exchange a few emails with our son and daughter on his phone (some connections are just too precious to break entirely) but otherwise, I was well and truly out of touch with my normal life connections. And I liked it.

IMG_0292I rediscovered how to just sit still and either think my own thoughts, or pay real attention to what was around me.  I spent the train rides staring out the window at passing countryside, admiring the stone fences, the quaint farmhouses and the little towns we passed through.  When we were stopping back at our hotel to change and rest, I’d actually close my eyes and rest for a few minutes, which did wonders for restoring my energy level.  And while waiting for our food at pubs and restaurants, I listened to the music, if there was any.  If there wasn’t, I spent the time actually talking to my husband, who was sitting so conveniently right across the table. I found myself both living in the moment and truly connecting with my environment, to an extent that I haven’t enjoyed in a long, long time.

Now that I’m back in the states, I have my phone turned back on. My time in Ireland didn’t entirely wean me off my cell phone habit, but it did make me see that I was letting my phone intrude into my personal life far too much.  So I’ve made the promise to myself to leave my phone in my purse, where it belongs, while I’m in the company of people I care about.  And I’ve vowed not to reach for it first thing in the morning, or when I’m just a little bored, or even when I feel conspicuous sitting among a group of people who are all staring at their phones.  Because truly, sometimes it’s better to be disconnected.

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….