Sunday, November 23, 2008
a troublesome disconnect
My wireless contract with Verizon expires on the first of the year, and for the past several months I’ve been debating whether or not I want to finally break down and get myself a fancy schmancy smart phone – specifically, an iPhone - or just a regular old phone without all the bells and whistles. (I know. I know. My problems are just insurmountable. However do I manage?)

The issue isn’t really the cost of the phone per se, as I’m pretty sure the iPhone would be a gift, rather I’m not sure how much I want technology to get its hooks further into me. As it is, I’m becoming increasingly troubled by the extent to which this has already happened. The part of me that can’t help but get excited about tricked-out new gadgets is doing battle with the other half who worries that, as a society, we’ve let technology consume our lives to the point of saturation, often allowing it to replace more genuine forms of communication. And, that even when we are physically together, we’re too distracted to ever really give each other our full attentions.

As someone who lived quite comfortably for two years in the mid 00’s without the Internet and who consistently selects whatever free phone her cell phone company is offering at the time, it’s a bit surprising how entrenched I’ve become in technology. I blog so much that I even microblog, sometimes feel that I’m listening to my iPod more times than I’m not, have half-heartedly embraced Internet social networking despite swearing I never would, check my email with the frequency of an OCD sufferer, and I finally broke down two years ago and allowed myself to start sending and receiving text messages after stubbornly resisting it longer than most folks I know.

It’s not that I was a luddite exactly, but when I first had the Internet I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about, and so when I had to unplug myself it really just wasn’t all that hard to do. Then, when I finally plugged back in, it was with a surprising sort of abandon. Not that this has been a bad thing, necessarily. Technology has helped me forge, rekindle and maintain friendships, gain confidence in my writing, and has been a tremendous source of entertainment. But, I’m also starting to wonder how much of all this superficial connectiveness is really bringing us together, versus how much it’s changing us into a generation of people who are so incapable of being unplugged that we are never fully present when we are actually spending time with one another in the flesh.

Take my students, for example. Theirs is a generation that seems incapable of functioning without technology. If I’d let them, they would text message their friends all throughout my class while listening to their iPods, then swear that they’re still paying attention. But they’re not. They can’t be. At least, not fully. They’re half-hearing everything, are frustrated when denied all forms of entertainment, and have attention spans so small that they can’t be bothered to read an article off the Internet if it’s more than a couple paragraphs long. This is our future – people who don’t think it rude to have entire conversations with a person while wearing headphones and text messaging someone else. This scares me, and yet at times I am not so different from them.

I’m not sure it’s good that we’ve made ourselves so readily available to one another. I don’t want to be the person who is constantly in my phone, even when we’re talking. I want to really listen to what you’re saying, and I want you to do the same for me. I don’t need to read your text messages while I’m driving 75 miles per hour on a four-laned freeway, and I certainly don’t need to respond to them at that time. And please, don’t you do it either. I don’t want visits with my friends and family to be consumed with television watching instead of talking. I don’t want to spend our time together sitting around on our laptops, checking to see who may have emailed us when there’s a room full of people we can actually be talking to.

Nonetheless, I sometimes am this person. At times, I can be every bit as impatient and distracted as the younger generation.

Maybe I’m thinking about all this way too much. It is, after all, only a phone, and just like anything else, the applications and Internets and whatnot can all be easily managed with discipline. But still, I have a nagging feeling that by making communication easier, we’ve just watered it down. I can’t help but wonder if we truly realize what it is that we’ve given up.


Blogger Danny Boy said...

you're right. is all this technology better or worse? I don't think we know. do you really need a fancy phone? probably not. is it fun? probably.


Blogger Steve said...

Maggie, I had the same internal debate before I got my iPhone. Did I really need it? Would I get sucked into technology more?

I'm happy with my purchase. The main thing that it does for me is let me check the online traffic maps so I can choose the best way home from work. I really don't use it more than my other phone. I didn't get further sucked into technology. But, then I get sick of computers after working with them all day, so I ignore technology when I get home...

One thing that I didn't know before buying my iPhone is that it can't handle text messages with pictures. If you get a lot of pictures in texts, you might want to get a different phone.

Blogger Steve said...

(The above comment was made by me, MB. I forgot that I'm on Steve's computer and logged in as him.)

Blogger Abs said...

Here's my strategy:
I think I've made it clear that, even while I am "strongly female" I am a raging nerd. I was using telnet before it was cool. I built my own college computer. That kind of thing.
I was resistant to cell phones for a long time, and really only got one because I was traveling a lot by myself. At the time, I asked myself, what do I need this to do? There were all kinds of phones available, but I picked one that simply met my needs. When my two years was up, I renewed my contract, and didn't bother getting a new phone. It still meets my needs.
I don't really like being on the phone. I also have a perfectly good Shuffle, a TomTom from my folks, and internet at the office. My needs are met, and I don't see why I should dish out money for stuff I'd barely, if ever, use.
Neat is one thing. But will you USE it and feel good about it?

Blogger Michelle said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels the same way you do...I debated getting an iPhone, too, and wound up pondering the whole deeper meaning of technology in society today. In the end, I decided against it for a totally different reason--I got so frustrated with the "keyboard" when I tried it out! Never could get to a website I wanted. Turns out I'm just too uncoordinated for one. So, I bought an expensive dress instead (it was my birthday gift). :)

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