A week ago I bought an iPhone, replacing the pathetic little Nokia that came with my two-year contract for business phone service with AT&T. Resistant to the inexorable march of modern technology, I have always been the last kid on the block to accept the latest innovation, usually guaranteed to revolutionize the way we do something or other. And whatever it is usually does revolutionize something, whether it’s the way we eat, the kind of cars we drive, or the way we communicate with each other.
My husband is way ahead of me in this respect; he switched over to Apple computers several years ago, while I continued to plunk away on a string of pc’s, loyal to what was most familiar to me. Finally, we co-purchased a MacBook last year, and although I haven’t switched my business computing over yet, I use that computer regularly at home (like now). It’s only a matter of time . . .
So my lousy little Nokia phone and its increasing tendency to drop calls or mysteriously erase messages before I could listen to them, pushed me over the line. And brothers and sisters, I’ve been converted. I love my iPhone. I love that I can calendar everything on it, make lists (for groceries, for movies I want to buy, for future vacation ideas, etc.), balance my checkbook with its cutesy little calculator, listen to my favorite music, take photos and make videos, surf the web, play sudoku, and get maps and directions. Yes, I do, I really truly do love this small and amazing device.
Is there a problem?
Ummm, well, yeah, kind of . . .
See, I simultaneously believe that all of our fantastic electronic technology is (1) actually decreasing the quality and depth of our interpersonal communication, which (2) becomes increasingly abbreviated, shallow, and ubiquitous, (3) takes our focus away from living in and fully experiencing each singularly unique moment of our lives, and (4) distracts us from the wondrous vicissitudes of life in general.
I mean, c’mon. Texting? TWEETING?
There’s a guy to whom I once wrote pages-long love letters when he was sent away to college out of state (a transparent–and ultimately unsuccessful– ploy by his parents to destroy our relationship). I wrote to him almost every week while he was gone. He wrote me back. Our letters were goofy, sweet, passionate, and ridiculously funny, and I lived for them. So, lessee, how do you do that with texts? Tweets?
A few years after this, when I left home and moved far away to be with that same guy, I wrote homesick missives to my mom and a handful of close friends. Of course I also called everyone and talked on the phone, sometimes for hours at a time. But nothing could substitute for the thrill of a large, thick envelope in the mailbox, awaiting my discovery. Letters could be read over and over, for comfort, reassurance, excitement, swooning. They were touchable, personal keepsakes.
In my salad days, I worked for a number of years as a legal secretary. When I started my first position at a mid-sized law firm, word processors were just being introduced for clerical staff to replace mag card typewriters (there is indeed a special place in hell for these machines, and whoever invented them). During my five-year tenure at this particular office, I also witnessed the advent of the fax machine, which made it possible to almost instantaneously transmit documents to the courts in other cities, eliminating the need to send packages via Greyhound bus.
Of course these machines greatly improved the efficiency of our work, which was cool. But they also meant that the pace of our work increased accordingly. If we could keyboard, edit, and finalize court pleadings and other lengthy documents much more quickly using word processors, our bosses could give us more and more work to do, resulting in more deadlines, more pressure, and a lot more stress. And during my five years working at this law firm, I experienced this process as something that reduced me and my co-workers into automatons.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for computers and cell phones and DVDs and all that stuff. There is much that is good about our ever-evolving technology. But at the risk of sounding like an over-dramatic iconoclastic crank, I think we’re losing our humanity, our ability to connect meaningfully with others, our relationships with one another, with the natural world, our ability to think original thoughts and articulate them with clarity and intelligence, to maintain our focus on one thing for more than a few seconds at time. What I’m hearing from friends who have taught or teach on the university level is that there are an astounding number of students graduating with writing skills that are rudimentary at best. If most of your writing is in the form of texting, well . . . DUH . . .
So to coax myself out of my brain and the above-such-like thoughts, I took a very long shower, the kind of shower that involves a slow, ritualistic washing and conditioning of my hair, shaving langorously with a freshly bladed razor and some phoofty scented shaving gel or foam, the focused scrubbing of heels and bottoms of feet with a pumice stone, and lots of rinsing. Stepping out of this kind of shower, I always feel reborn and innocent, kind of like a kitten. A temporary antidote, to be sure, but a good one.
However, I seem to have written myself to a standstill. I think I’ll save my ranting screed on the disappearance of mystery for another time.
The trains are calling into the night, something sad, or at least poignant.