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February 20, 2009

Take Your Pod and Stuff It

I walked down Church Street tonight and I was completely invisible. A good friend walked right past me without seeing me. She was texting/Twittering/God-knows-whattering on her iPhone/iPod/insert-other-popular-web-enabled-device-here. Right behind her was another friend who didn't see me either because of the very same thing.

A few years ago —  passing by those very same people on the very same street —  we would have stopped and talked. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for an hour. We would have gone for a drink or two... or three... at the bar on the corner. We would have made stories to TELL... not "blog."  Or maybe we would have just sat on a bench and talked for a while. Or maybe we would have just smiled and nodded as we passed. Something. Some kind of interaction.

When I got home, I found myself talking on my cell phone with a friend in NYC whose laptop suddenly started typing gibberish. She asked me to "google" the answer to her problem. I tried and tried and tried until my cell phone died. I took another cell phone and tried to her back, but I didn't know her number since, for so long, I had only hit a button from my "contacts" list. In another time, I would have looked in my phone book and dialed her up on a rotary phone, connected by a wire to the wall, connected by another wire to the pole, connected by another wire and another and another to her ear.

I couldn't help my friend. She couldn't finish her work. Or find a new roommate. Or contact the world. Because her keyboard was coming up with numbers and symbols instead of letters. I told her that maybe it was a sign telling her to put the computer in the corner and take a break.

I want to take a break. I'm sick of technology. I'm sick of the cold. I'm sick of social networking with no social interaction.

I want letters in my mailbox instead of messages in my inbox. I want flesh and blood instead of "friends"  on facebook. I don't care what your "is" is. I don't want your "Tweet." I want discourse and discussion. I want albums and records instead of downloads on iTunes. I want liner notes. I want real breath. Real words. Real. Speaking. Human. Beings. I want LIFE Not iLife.

And I know I'm not alone.

No, Diane, you're definitely not alone. I was in a bowling alley a few weeks ago and a teenaged girl in the next lane over kept her cell phone to her ear the entire night, even while she was bowling. She was there with three of her friends and I doubt she said 10 words to them. My theory: It's a social defense mechanism, a way to keep people from talking to her. If they assume she's already indisposed, they won't initiate a conversation.

I know Twitter, texting, microblogging, Facebook, et al. are all the rage, the "new wave" in journalism. But to me, it all seems like yet another act in the Short Attention Span Theater. Give me living, breathing people any day.

I totally understand the sentiment here, but I don't think it has to be a zero-sum game.

While I also look dismissively at the young girl behind the cash register furtively checking her text messages, I have become far more connected to real human beings via these continually emerging technologies.

It is absolutely possible to strike a balance.

Agreed, Vermonter.

Diane, I think you're suffering from a bit of technological cabin fever. Like Vermonter, I totally understand the sentiment and have been known to scream at drivers from within my car to "get off the damned phone and drive!" Still, remember that every generation has some gripe with new cultural norms that seem to fly in the face of our traditional understanding of how the world should work. The same records and liner notes that you wax nostalgic for were the bane of our parents lives - "she never comes out of her room, always listening to that god forsaken rock music! Why doesn't she go have a cream soda with her friends like we used to do at her age???" (yes, this is a caricature -- my parents didn't actually talk like that either, but you get the idea.)

And yes, my real life social world is vastly enriched by my online socializing. Even so, I sometimes get screen-stare and have to close the laptop and do something more in line with my pre-internet childhood -- like watch TV!

Unfortunately, thsese technologies are so new that we haven't quite figured out (or learned) the etiquette that goes along with them. I take a hard-line stance of no Blackberry at the table unless we're all looking up something as a group (movie times, trivia relating to the conversation, etc.).

But I'm also thrilled at reconnecting with my entire high school class via Facebook this year. I've forged correspondences with people that I barely knew back then. And I've opened up an entirely new circle of aquaintances (friends of friends) on Twitter. I buy handmade goods from some, and swap consulting advice with other. Another new friend has helped me troubleshoot my pellet stove.

Once the newness wears off, I believe, like Vermonter and Cathy, that we'll find a place to weave these new communication tools into a richly textured social landscape.

Diane just told me about her post face-to-face and I still had to read it on my phone to get the "artistic version." And know I'm tapping in Red Square instead of drinking and talking to my friends.

I'm glad I have something to do now while they're outside smoking in the freezing cold.

Funny, I just had a big discussion on this topic with a few friends this afternoon.

We agreed that one of the worst problems with the ubiquity of cellphones is that they have destroyed the 'drop-in'.

Thanks to cellphones it is now wierd and slightly unacceptable (at least in my circles) to just drop by to say hello when you're in the neighborhood of a friend - even a close friend. The thought would be: "Is something wrong? why didn't you call?"

Someone should start a facebook group for folks committed to bringing back the drop-in. hehe.

many of these argumentments are elitist and judgmental - its ironic how the elite folks used to be the ones that have phones, now with land line, etc prices, the snoots are the ones that can afford not to have them

a memory - one time i was, somewhat weirdly i admit - moving a piece of hair from behind my ear as i was waiting to make a left turn out of a driveway on to a busy street - then, some fat fuckhead walking down the road yells 'get off the cell phone LADY. what a judgmental prick -i wanted to run over that fat piece of flab - get the fuck over it.

sure there's a balance, but pointing fingers and judgmental remarks aren't the way to go

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