Thursday, January 3, 2019

I'm on the Edge....of Irrelevance

I happened upon a recent Wired article chronicling the writer's self-imposed demotion from a smart phone to a flip phone, and it got me revisiting my own philosophy of technology, which is a product of both intent and financial hardship, with a dose of reluctance for good measure.

I wrote about some aspects of technology in this post, but let me speak more personally as to why I draw the lines where I do. My first reaction to the Wired piece was that it was a flawed experiment in that the writer was regressing from a smart phone to a "dumb phone" as opposed to never having had a smart phone in the first place, which is my situation.

I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the cell phone era. The breaking point came the nth time my flight was delayed or cancelled and I had no way to reach my party on the receiving end to tell them I would not be arriving in a timely manner. I was still reluctant to make the expenditure for a phone, battery, and calling plan, but it was getting embarrassing and impolite to beg the use of a stranger's device. Consequently, I purchased the cheapest phone, and a pay-as-you-go service.

To this day, I run out of "service days" far more regularly than I run out of minutes. Our household still has a land line, with unlimited long distance (no "roaming" fees), that I rely on for the overwhelming majority of telecommunication aside from e-mails. I briefly flirted with an upgraded phone that had an uncovered keyboard, but after I accidentally pocket-dialed a friend in Massachusetts, I went back to a flip phone and here I am.

One Christmas my wife got me a tablet as a gift. After the futility and frustration of trying to scroll and accidentally connecting to unwanted website after unwanted advertisement, and the aggravation of automatic word suggestions while texting or posting, I gave up. That was about three days in. I am all thumbs when it comes to anything smaller than a full-sized keyboard.

There are many benefits to having sub-forefront technology. The greatest of these might be the deterrent to theft. If a burglar had ever entered my prior residences, he or she would have taken a look around and screamed something to the effect of "Are you KIDDING me?!" and maybe an expletive, before storming out. Had they managed to haul off the television, recovering the unit would be a simple matter of calling around to hospitals to see if anyone had come in with a severe back injury. My laptop is so outdated that even I no longer use it. My desktop is over seven years old, and the various cords too tangled for a hurried criminal to untangle. I am still running Windows 7. This is all exactly how I like it: Technology that gets me through, is still supported and serviced, and not new enough to be attractive to thieves.

Another benefit to not carrying a smart phone or tablet or notebook or whatever they are calling the latest thing is that I am forced to unplug when I am out of my home. I am compelled to interact with other people in the flesh, pay attention to my surroundings, and experience the unadulterated reality of the here-and-now. Yes, sometimes it is boring. So what? If you have to be entertained all the time or, increasingly, feel obligated to entertain others via social media, then you might want to re-examine your life. Take a breath. Smell the flowers. People-watch. Wildlife watch.

I can assure you I do not relate any of this to paint myself as superior, or inferior, or out of touch with the realities of the digital universe. Indeed, I find this Age to be a wonder, but I also wonder whether we are losing sight of things that truly matter, whether we are still engaging one another in meaningful relationships, and whether we are losing touch with the natural world. I am fortunate enough to know people who balance flesh-and-blood and digital worlds perfectly, so I have hope. Meanwhile, if you need to reach me on my travels, good luck. I use Tracfone, and isn't that everyone's punchline for any joke about irrelevance?

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