I’m no Luddite longing for some pre-digital Eden and you’ll have a fight on your hands if you try to get my Android phone or my desktop PC away from me.
I do have to admit, however, that I’m grateful to have grown up without a smartphone in my hand or social media to embarrass myself on. There’s a part of my cynical old-lady heart that sighs a little for our current generation of digital natives, these poor connected kids who are never out of their parents’ sight. Can you imagine never having experienced just going off by yourself to wherever you felt like going with no one really knowing where you were?
I used to do that all the time!
I’d tell my mother I was going out to walk and draw. I had a small radio and I’d walk for miles out along the interstate highway, then cut across into the woods and tramp around out in the countryside all day long. Try doing that today, my young friends. Oh, go ahead, sweetie, have fun. You have your phone, right?
And, thank all that’s holy that no one had a smartphone camera back when I was shooting pool, snorting whatever off the Space Invaders table game, downing multiple shots of whatever all night and then puking my brains out behind The Paragon Lounge. Or starting fistfights with bikers while I was blacked out. Weird to think that it was a privilege to have been an out-of-control, stupid, messed-up drunk and the only way anyone knows about it now is when I choose to talk or write about it. The narrative is mine to present as I see fit.
Not so true for you, my young friends. I’m sorry to say but getting shit-faced drunk and making a complete fool of yourself is no longer something you can enjoy with only a killer hangover as the price to pay. Those photos will follow you forever. That seems unfair but humans can adapt to nearly anything.
The Phantom Buzz in my Pocket
Years ago I went to Prague and took an unlocked phone. Once there, I tried to buy a SIM card for it. The card never worked so for those eight days, I had no phone.
For the first day or so, I kept feeling a buzz in my pocket where the phone would have been. I walked around patting my pocket like a junkie all day.
However, once I moved past that and set out into the city by myself without a phone I had the most exhilarating sense of freedom. I was on my own in a city where I didn’t speak the language and no one knew exactly where I was or what I was doing. I could go anywhere. I could do anything. There was never a moment when I had to worry about missing calls or texts. If I made it to that cool little Thai restaurant that’s tucked upstairs between two buildings, great, and if not, oh well.
The Connected Cubicle
Now as I navigate the working world, I must keep adding to my electronic skill sets as do we all.
This means that I’m not proficient at Excel or PowerPoint but I’ve learned that I can basically fake it by clicking around a bunch and asking the Google how to do things. I’m fairly adept at Word. My typing improved tremendously in past days of hanging out in chat rooms where people around the world fired off furious puns at lightning speed so I do have that under my belt.
At recent job interviews, I’ve been asked if I was familiar with this or that software. If I’ve never touched the thing, I’ll fess up but usually, I can say I’ve had some experience with whatever it is.
At my last job, I had to update PowerPoint slide shows for three big annual conferences. When I started there a PowerPoint whiz kid did the more complicated updates but over time, by virtue of clicking around and asking the Google how to do things, I was able to take over those updates completely.
But Excel? Dear God, is there anyone who actually understands and can access everything that thing can do? For me, it’s a fancy-ass spreadsheet that can add columns of numbers and alphabetize lists. Isn’t that enough? Yeah, dumb question.
I sit on the subway nearly every day surrounded by people peering intently into their little screens. Some are moving brightly colored bits of fruit around, some are staring raptly at movies or, may the gods help us all, television shows, some are doing crosswords or playing Solitaire and some, bless their hearts, are reading. This is New York City so there are still a fair number of people reading books and even the oddball here and there, doing that careful origami with the pages of their newspaper.
We are paradoxically more connected and more isolated than ever.
If you’re feeling a little backed into a digital corner, take heart. We can all still fall back on our analog ways any time we want to. Books and paper newspapers abound. Some of us actually still strike up conversations with people we don’t know which is actually pretty common in New York.
My friend, Jeremy Lyman who co-founded Birch Coffee here in New York City and his partner, came up with the radical notion of limiting Wifi access in their coffee shops several years ago.
Now there’s at least one coffee shop in the city where people talk to each other.
While I’m selfishly grateful to have been part of the last analog generation, I don’t worry much about the kids and their gizmos. They’ll adapt their little hearts out and be fine with whatever technology gets thrown their way.
In the meantime, I continue to improve my digital vocabulary without being too anxious about mastering any of it.
Nevertheless, I remain one of those weirdos on the subway reading a book.
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