All of Pat Brothwell’s technology decided to malfunction last weekend, what he learned about himself was eye opening.
I’ve never considered myself one of those people who is completely reliant on technology. There are plenty of times that I turn off my phone to concentrate on other activities, and I have an abundance of hobbies that don’t involve my computer. At least I thought I did. It took all of my tech devices crapping out at once for me to realize how much it dictated my life.
A couple of weeks ago I came home from work exhausted, wanting to do nothing more than collapse on the couch, take advantage of the fact that I had a case of Guinness in the fridge and watch Law and Order: SVU reruns until I passed out. The beer didn’t let me down and the couch was exceedingly comfortable, but when I turned on the television, a gigantic beast of a thing they don’t manufacture anymore, all I got was the acrid smell of a slow electrical burn. Last week my roommate and I hauled it down to the curb. We’ve been TV-less ever since.
A week ago my iTrip, the tiny device that lets me sync my iPod with my FM radio decided to give up on a particularly trafficky day. Luckily, Lancaster has a bunch of good country channels to flip between.
This Friday, I got home, made something to eat and turned on the computer to browse Facebook or StumbleUpon or my new favorite, Cabin Porn, anything mindless, when I was confronted with a message indicating that the internet was down. I texted my roommate in a panic who explained that we were switching internet providers and it’d be up soon. Satiated, I realized I could just surf the web on my phone, which I happily did for about 20 minutes before my phone reminded me that its battery was “critically low.” This wouldn’t have been an issue had I not forgotten my charger at work, 20 minutes away.
Here I was approaching a weekend with no TV, no internet and no phone.
Really, it turned out not to be a big deal. As I mentioned, I’d always been good with finding things to occupy myself. Plus, my computer was still working. I caught up on some blogging (via Microsoft word), cleaned up my iTunes, woke up nice and early Saturday morning to write, hit the gym, hike and read an entire book start to finish (Nick Offerman’s Paddle Your Own Canoe, which I highly recommend). Sunday I caved and hit up the wireless internet at Barnes and Noble, but only because I had grading that needed to be done online.
I wasn’t surprised that I made it through the weekend fine.
I grew up in a home that regularly got “new” technology a good two years after everybody else. I never had a television in my room, never owned any sort of video game console, spent plenty of time outdoors and it was not uncommon for me to finish an entire book start to finish in a weekend (in fact, it’s not uncommon for me to finish a book start to finish in a night). I grew up in an area that still doesn’t have great cell reception, and if I’m legitimately busy and having fun I have the ability to go an entire weekend without checking my phone.
Or so I thought.
I didn’t miss watching television. I’d gotten used to that. I did miss listening to music in the car but made due with the radio. I was surprised how much I missed my phone. Even when I wasn’t expecting, I found myself reaching down into my pocket to fish it out.
The thing is, it’s easy to say you have no over-reliance on being uber-connected when you constantly are. I don’t sit with my face on the computer all day, like most people, I check it in tiny intervals. Those intervals add up.
The amount of times this weekend I instinctively felt around on my nightstand or my desk to check my texts, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram was frankly appalling. I didn’t count, because I think that’d be too depressing, but at an average of once every five minutes or so, I’d estimate it’s close to 240 times a day.
What’s worse is that my first instinct when waking up in the middle of the night, was not to right away relieve the heavy bladder I’m sure woke me up in the first place, but to pick up my phone and play around a little bit. You don’t realize how … well … sad that is, until you find yourself fumbling around in the dark for something that isn’t there.
It was also eye opening to see how reliant I was on my phone to entertain me WHILE I DROVE. Stoplights? I was reaching for my phone. Traffic buildups? Yep. Stop signs? You bet. While I was driving? Sad but true. And again, it took its absence for me to realize this. How dangerous a driver had (have?!?) I become?
Then a horrifying thought dawned on me. I fancy myself socially competent. I think I’m approachable, friendly and fun to be around. But was I that guy, the guy that’s constantly sticking his face in his phone while everyone else rolls their eyes and thinks, “What could possibly be so important that he needs to see right now?” It’s a cringe-inducing realization.
So this isn’t a post about learning to entertain oneself without technology or finally having real conversations with people. Those are not things I need to realize. This is the realization that I’ve become one of those people addicted to their smartphones, even though I fancy myself above that. It was a cringe inducing, but ultimately healthy realization I’ve since realized.
I want to say that it’s made me more cognizant of how much I use it, and it has. It doesn’t mean it’s stopped me though. In the course of writing this post I’ve checked Facebook twice on my computer, exchanged four texts, checked for texts that weren’t there six times, went on Twitter twice, looked at four entries on Cabin Porn (seriously check it out if you’re at all into the outdoors), checked Facebook on my phone once and read two articles on The Good Men Project (but that was related right?).
Clearly an unforced separation between myself and technology is going to need to be measured in baby steps.