A new book by tech writer Jaron Lanier is titled You Are Not a Gadget. Sometimes I think that’s worth remembering. The Internet has made our lives better in innumerable ways. But there is something to be said for disconnecting from the technology from time to time and reconnecting with the real world.
I was recently at a conference in Washington, D.C. There were about 300 attendees, and the host asked all to turn off their cell phones. This time, he added a special plea: “I know they are addictive, but please do put them away for the duration of the presentation.” As time went on – we are only talking about two hours here – I could see several people’s faces grow uncomfortable without their periodic email fix.
I felt it too. My Blackberry was there, in my coat pocket, turned off. Sleeping, but semi-conscious. Did I have new email? Was I kidding – of course I had new email. From whom? Work related stuff I needed to get to? Some professional invitation that could be kind of cool? A message from my family? What if someone texted me? Hmm, and maybe someone had tweeted the latest article I’d written. Or posted it on their Facebook wall. My article could be in Google News now, or posted to my employer’s website. Maybe it got picked up somewhere else, too. Which reminds me, I should write a new one. I don’t have pen and paper, though – I should email myself a couple of notes. Oh, can’t – Blackberry’s off. Maybe just a quick peek. . . what is that speaker saying, again?
All over the audience, men and women began to sneak surreptitious looks at their smart phones. It’s hard to stay unplugged, even for a couple of hours, even when you have something else to do, and even when you are specifically asked to.
A New York Times article recently asked whether readers felt closer to their smart phones or their spouses. Interesting question. I’d put it slightly differently. I routinely here people say that they “love” their new iPhone or iPad or new app. When is the last time you told someone that you love your spouse?
I now consciously try to take an otherwise blackberry-distracted moment during the day and spend it the old-fashioned way. I look around the street as I walk up the sidewalk. Gaze around the store as I’m waiting in line. Take a deep breath in the elevator instead of hunching over a little screen. Think about my lovely, loving (and loved) wife.
It’s not easy. I love my technology as much as the next person. But I also know that there are roses all around us. It’s up to us to smell them.