Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The World Before the Internet

If you are twenty years or older, you can remember the world before the internet (I'm sure that one day we'll call that period of time B.I. for short).

You didn't grow up with smart phones, text messaging, or tablets.
The entire world took on a different form and shape with the introduction of these things.

For many reasons, I am grateful.
For other reasons, I am wary.

Even as a person who has spent the majority of her life with these technologies, I can remember what it was like before they came to be. 

We used maps.
We memorized phone numbers and addresses: our own and our families and our close friends.
We used this thing called a TV Guide to know what time "Family Matters" would come on. 
We wrote things down. We made more tangible lists.
We used pay phones.
We wore watches.
We used alarm clocks.
We didn't expect our phone calls to be instant and we didn't curse at the satellites in the sky when they weren't.
Identity theft was less prevalent and a signature on paper meant something.
Very few of us had usernames and passwords to keep track of. 
We used the phone book to choose where we were going to eat out.
We checked the want ads for jobs and posted our garage sales in the newspaper.
We used encyclopedias. Often.
Some had beepers. And that was pretty neat.
But mostly we were unbridled to anything else other than maybe our wallets.
It wasn't expected that we would be constantly connected to the world around us and I think--as a result--we were more calm and more present with each other.

As nostalgic as I may sound, technology isn't all bad. I'm grateful for many of the gifts that it has brought to my life. 

For example:
The ability to Skype my dear friend in Nepal.
Google Maps.
Facebook, which allows me to keep somewhat of a connection with friends and acquaintances all over the world.
The ease of looking up information quickly on Google.
Digital photography.
A cell phone that makes me feel safer on long road trips.
And screen viewing that has helped save tons of trees from paper waste.

Technology has brought both positives and negatives into our lives. And I find that rarely do we stop to acknowledge this fact at all. We hardly blink. We just take on the next toy without even thinking. With the rapid introduction of all these amazing new devices we just keep adding them on like ornaments to a Christmas tree. But that tree can only hold so much. And sometimes I feel like we're breaking. We're literally falling apart.

We're often listening to headphones if we're in a public place.
Do we miss out on random conversations with strangers or even friends?

We keep our phones on-hand as a clear sign that says, "I would rather not talk to you."
Do we miss out on just sitting quietly and thinking? Are we so afraid to be alone?

We put screens in our faces to avoid uncomfortable conversations, long hallways while approaching strangers, and nearly everything else. What is this doing to our brains? To our attention spans? To our connections?

We text message when we could call. Or even knock on the door. Or step into the next room.

Where is the law that says we must brainlessly abide by, purchase, and use every new technology that's placed before us?

When did we get so uncomfortable at the idea that we might have to sit and wait? Or be quiet? Or be still? Or be alone? When did this begin to terrify us so much?

These connections often leave me feeling disconnected.

In our schools, we teach an enormous amount of literature classes about how to read a text. How to interpret the meaning. How to understand what the story or poem is all about. But we lack media education. A frame of reference. Who is teaching us how to interact with these new technologies? Who is educating us about the purpose of the comment section and how to behave on-line in a noble and respectful way?

No one. 

This is not education that many of us have received. Because technology is an infant. It is child-like in its maturity and development. We've still got a long way to go before we've tapped into half of its potential. And I don't know what that looks like or the road that will take us there. But I do know that if we are not mindful of the journey we're on, we may arrive at our destination and be unable to recognize ourselves in the mirror.

But I don't think it has to be this way. We just need to create our own code of ethics related to technology because no one else is going to. No one is going to teach us balance. We have to teach ourselves. I want to partake in the technologies that benefit my life and downsize those that don't.  

Here is MY personal code of technological ethics:

I only check Facebook once a week. People know that this is not a speedy way to get a hold of me, so they only send urgent messages to my e-mail address. But FB is a nice way to spend an hour or so checking in on people I love and reading things that interest me.

I do not get any e-mails or alerts from Facebook. I don't need to be constantly informed on mine or others on-line activity. There's more to life.

I avoid commenting on all of the Facebook posts I disagree with. It's hard. But I've found that just by "Unfollowing" a person, I keep myself out of a lot of trouble. I always ask myself, "Would I say this to their face?" Otherwise its cowardice. It's amazing how little I end up commenting.

I only check my e-mail once or twice a day. This is not a luxury everyone has. Maybe someday a job will require more. For now, that's plenty.

I don't own a smart phone. I can call. I can text. I can take grainy photos. What more do I need? No really. Nothing. 

I don't own a television. There are a wealth of programs to watch on-line. And in doing so, there are less commercials, no channel surfing, and it's less expensive.

I don't watch garbage on the TV at the gym. No "Housewives of..."-anywhere. No reality TV that makes me feel worse about the human race.

I have TV night once a week with my husband where we watch the three or four shows we like to keep up on. Then every other night is wide open for other things, like painting or playing music or--ya know--talking.

This is not a self-righteous testament of what I think everyone else should be doing. This is what works for me. To some this might sound restrictive. No fun. But for me, it's just the opposite. Because I've seen the chains that technology can sometimes put on us and I want to be intentional about the path I'm walking. And believe me when I say, I feel completely free. 

What path are you taking in regard to technology?

Do you have a personal code of ethics?

What is the structure you have in place that betters your life?

Please share.


Carley Brown said...

My sister brought her tablet out during our family meal, where we rarely have all of us together, my sister-in-law promptly told her to put it away and my sister rolled her eyes. I of course agreed, because who needs a tablet in front of your face when talking face to face at the dinner table is a rarity. I enjoyed your post, as I do most all your posts.

Bryan H said...

For me, life tends to be better when I do not have internet access at home. I need access at work, of course, but not having it home prevents the temptation of sinking hours into uselessness.