That Moment When I Realize the Problem is Me

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Photo by Jangra Works, via Flickr

This might come as a shock to many people. (Brace yourselves, sisters!) Occasionally…very occasionally…I do fleetingly think, “Gee, if I had a smart phone right now I could…”

I always decide that for me, the benefit would be far outweighed by the nuisance, the expectation of being always available. But I’ve realized in the past few days that my reasoning is faulty. I’m absolutely right to stay disconnected, but the real issue in having a smart phone wouldn’t be the technology. It would be me.

It seemed like for a week, I kept hearing stories about people who had found their family relationships strained—in some cases broken—by addiction to screen time. Then I read a striking reflection, provocatively titled “I used to be human,” by Andrew Sullivan, who embraced life online until he realized his physical health was failing and so was his ability to have meaningful relationships. Yesterday, I heard him on NPR’s program Here and Now (a great interview, btw).

And when Christian and I talked these things over, we found ourselves stumped by the lack of self-regulation that seems ubiquitous to modern life. I scolded him for how often he feels compelled to check his work email day, night, morning, weekends. And he pointed out how much time I spend on the computer.

That was when I realized that I am not immune. I, too, am driven by a need for distraction. If I get stuck while I’m working, I’ll click over to email, and when there’s nothing there, I’ll hop on Facebook or (less frequently) Twitter. (There’s always something to distract me there.)

I value going out to the Pinnacles or Gans Creek to write because it takes me completely off the grid. It’s just me and my muse and the Spirit. I go out there, first, to be still and meditate, but despite devoting half my nature time to stillness and not doing, I generally get more writing done than I would if I stayed home.

backyard-retreat

I haven’t been going out much lately. We invested in a set of patio furniture that has made my back yard like a retreat—at least, when the wind is out of the north, as it has been the past week or so, and I can’t hear the interstate roaring. But there’s wireless down there, and any time I ran into a speed bump in my manuscript, my brain went, “SQUIRREL!” and I ran off to check Facebook.

Late last week, I decided to safeguard my writing time by unplugging the wireless router before I went downstairs to write. See, theoretically you could just turn off the wireless on the computer (or turn off the phone). But I’ve tried that. When all it takes is a flip of the switch to reconnect, there’s not a whole lot standing between me and distraction. It’s been illuminating to see how often I’ve said to myself, “Oh, I’ll just go look up…oh, wait.”

I’ve accomplished a ton in the past week.

Then, early this week, I imposed a Facebook cap on myself. I’m now only allowed to get on Facebook three times a day. (Only! There’s your first clue, Sherlock.)

The sense of withdrawal engendered by all this clarified for me that the only way I can do everything I do is by staying disconnected, by opting into the digital realm on my terms instead of being in by default and having to consciously opt out. I might be able to control myself, because self-discipline and self-regulation are key to my world view. But I would spend so much mental bandwidth policing myself, I would be taking away from the energy required to do the things that are more important to me.

So for me, not having a smart phone, not texting, not doing All The Things Everybody Else Does, are what allow me to be the woman I want to be. But I’m glad that now I recognize the problem isn’t the technology—it’s me.

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Remembering Grandma and Rants About Technology (a 7QT post)

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Today would have been my grandma’s 99th birthday. It’s been nine months since she went to her rest and reward, so I wanted to share some “then” and “now” photos in her honor.

1974, with me on her lap

1974, with me on her lap

Grandma with Michael, 2011

Grandma with Michael, 2011

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I forgot to include this oddity in my “weird things” post a couple of weeks ago:

2 shoes

Because I ordinarily buy them one shoe at a time, don’t you? Ahem.

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The world has a new blogger, and it needed this one. You must click over and read. Right. Now. And then add her to your blogroll. I mean it. Right. Now.

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Me and technology are not good friends. The other day I tried to get on Finale to input music, and my MIDI interface went dead mid-phrase. The computer began beeping and hollering about how there was a problem with the software, or the cord, or the drivers, or some such nonsense. The keyboard is twenty-five years old, so the fact that we ever got it to work is sort of miraculous. Nonetheless, when I need my keyboard to work, I need it to work! I restarted Finale. I unplugged it and replugged it. I shut down the computer and restarted it. But nothing I did convinced that keyboard it needed to talk to my computer. I did Finale input manually for two days. And then, on a whim, I tried again–and it worked.

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Then, of course, there’s the deal with the printer. Let me back up. I had a Canon inkjet printer-scanner I adored. But it sort of became a catch-all surface. And one day it “caught” the iPad cord. Which was no big deal until Christian tried to print something, and the feed mechanism grabbed the end of the iPad cord and pulled it into the guts of the printer. The tech guys eventually got the cord out, but the printer was useless. (Incidentally, the blame for this incident does not rest with me, but with my husband. I feel compelled to share that, because I have so many problems with technology that are my own fault, I need to make it clear when it WASN’T my fault.)

So now we have a Brother printer-scanner. It is our first laser printer. It began wagging its finger at me to change the toner cartridge over a month ago, every time I start up the computer or turn the printer on. There hadn’t been any falloff in the print quality, but I bought a replacement cartridge from the recycled ink store so I would have it on hand when the print did fail.

And then, one day IN THE MIDDLE OF A PRINT JOB, the printer simply stopped printing and flashed, “CHANGE THAT CARTRIDGE RIGHT NOW WOMAN, I AM NOT PRINTING ONE MORE PAGE UNTIL YOU DO.” Only IT WAS STILL PRINTING JUST FINE! I tried shutting it off and on, turning the computer on and off–nothing would convince this printer that it was capable of printing another page until I changed that %^&**( cartridge that DIDN’T NEED CHANGING.

At last I called the Ink Factory, and was told that Brother sets its printers BY THE NUMBER OF PAGES. Now, how stupid is that? Part of my “consume less and protect the earth” campaign involves printing everything at low quality on the back side of used paper in order to use less of both. I always have. The only exception is writing submissions. So my mother bear growl is in full force. The idea that these technology companies can screw us over like this to ratchet up their bottom line is offensive. They’re undercutting attempts at conservation. Grrr!

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Speaking of technology, I lost my cell phone. And apparently I’m being unreasonable to want a dumb phone without a monthly plan, i.e. an emergency only cell phone. When we went to replace my phone, Virgin Mobile informed us that they no longer have a prepaid plan. I’ve been grandfathered in for a while, so they honored it as long as I kept my phone, but no longer. Well, fine. We switched over to TracPhone, because we had to. And if you’re one of the privileged few who had my cell #, just lose it, because it’s different now.

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As long as we’re talking about phones, I’m also apparently the only person in the universe who still knows phone numbers. My first major boyfriend wanted to program my # into his house phone–this was back in the 1990s. I got irritated because I thought there were certain phone numbers you just needed to know by heart, and your girlfriend’s was one of them.

These days, no one knows phone numbers, because everybody puts them in their phones. And I gnash my teeth and think, “What happens when something happens to your phone and you need to get in touch with someone? Huh? Huh?” But then it occurs to me that the kind of apocalypse that would take down a cell network would probably negate anyone needing to get in touch with anyone else, anyway.

Still, I remember phone numbers. A lot of phone numbers. I look at it as a mental exercise.

Well, I’ve been wordy and snarky today. Better get my two middle children ready for summer school!