Feb 8, 2013

Me and My Flip Phone: Ruminations on Technology and Balance

I was years late getting my first cell phone—that elongated handset with retractable antenna. It had one number stored in memory: my home, in case of emergencies. I was years late getting a computer, years late getting email, getting a blog, getting Facebook. And Twitter hasn’t been around long enough for me sign up yet.

I wish I could claim higher cool, but in the end, I’m a laggard. Principled, but a laggard nonetheless.

Ironically, I love technology. My favorite part of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was “Picture Picture.” Fred’s pre-Youtube videos showed how Coke bottles and crayons formed along the assembly line. It made me jealous to know that he got to see it all first-hand. But my love for technology—my appreciation and fascination with it—simply doesn’t always convert into participation.

For instance, from the moment Call Waiting entered the landline world, I’ve hung up on my mother every time she puts me on hold. We still bring television into our home via converter box and aluminum Christmas tree attached to the roof. And on the Sabbath, you can send an important email. I just won’t get it.

I cherish being unplugged from the full bandwidth of technology and its messages. As a veteran backpacker, I have no trouble leaving all digital reminders of civilization behind, silent and useless until I return.

Make no mistake: I do return. Three out of every four meetings I attend happen on Google+ Hangout. I fly, make podcasts, and hang pictures using a stud finder that relies upon capacitance differential. Yet I value the unencumbered life.      

If you and I were to hold a conversation over coffee, no one else exists. You’re it. What you have to say matters. When I sit down to watch a movie, I don’t fall asleep. I assume that every line mattered to the screen-writer and I want to experience the unfolding story as it was intended. Boring chats and regretful movies exist, for sure, but I might miss the good if I’m distractible.

I’d like to think I have the corner on balance. I don’t. I’m a laggard and laggards can’t always see the benefit of technological advances. We relish the old days and question the real value of practically every new item at Best Buy. The truth, however, is that I waffle between extremes. I abstain on one hand and envy on the other. I prefer the library and then experience jealousy when my friends look up a bit of trivia on their smart phones. In fact, I secretly want every app in the world, even as I wouldn’t know where to find them if I could. Google?

Last week, I forgot a Staples coupon. The cashier said he’d gladly take it from my phone mail. I stared at him. Then he offered his personal phone. Nope. Then he scrambled for an archaic piece of paper so that I could write down the coupon code once I called my wife at home to retrieve it. He had as much trouble finding paper as I had in telling him to forget about it. We were like two charity cases trying to care for each other.  

I know. There is a place for all of this. We have breath-taking, mind-boggling demonstrations of Genesis 2:15 being lived out every day, and I think this makes God happy. Advertising can take it too far, peer pressure can undermine our contentment, but intrinsically, these advances have merit.

I need to find a way to appreciate that merit—even when it’s in your pocket instead of mine. For now, I’m half-cheap and the other half afraid that giving in will compromise the kind of unbroken connections I enjoy, like with my daughter, who I hear coming in the back door right now from school. She’ll have a story or two to tell and I plan to give her my full attention.  

 

Image by Kurichan. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post written by Sam Van Eman.

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