I’d like to be able to wake up to classical music instead of NPR news, but unfortunately, we’re not able to tune in to our (weak, lame, and generally stupid) classical public radio station in the bedroom. So while I was lying in bed the other day trying to straighten out my aching knee and think of a reason to get up, I heard a story about teenagers texting while driving.
The thing that disturbed me was not the idea that inexperienced young drivers were composing written messages while behind the wheel, instead of being 100% attentive to the road. I am already completely cynical about drivers, drivers’ disregard for pedestrians, the way communities are planned for the benefit of drivers with no consideration for pedestrians at all, etc., etc. I am hypervigilant on the street, at intersections, anticipating the worst. A lot of women, I have read, live in fear of being sexually insulted, sexually assaulted, raped and then disbelieved; I have that kind of fear of being run down and killed, or just maimed (which might be worse) by a careless driving speeding to work while jabbering on his cell phone.
But I digress. No, what really disturbed me was that all the teenagers interviewed in a particular study were horrified at the idea of ever turning off their phones. They reacted to the idea of being cut off from their social network the way a sane and reasonable adult might react to the idea of spending a few hours a day cut off from their air supply. Connected all the time, 24/7, never inaccessible, never alone.
I don’t want to live in the glorious cloud of witnesses and data that techonology pundits assure us is coming. I don’t want to be plugged in without a break, always accessible, always turned on. That’s not a Luddite’s rejection of new technologies (and may I remind my readers that the historical Luddites were protesting the introduction of machines that put them out of work); it’s an introvert’s fear of having every chance at silence and solitude taken away.
I have a cell phone; it’s for making phone calls. I might not own one if I could still rely on the presence of public phones, but at least in my region, the public phone has all but disappeared. I prefer not to ignore the people around me, whether known or strangers, in favor of somebody somewhere else, at the other end of a wireless connection. I don’t carry an iPod or any other mp3 player; I have an enormous amount of music stored in my head, and I depend heavily on auditory cues when I’m walking. If I have my ears plugged up, I might miss that birdcall I’ve never heard before and not look for the bird that makes it, or not hear that car coming that’s not going to slow down for the yellow light but rather speed through. If someone near plays music I can overhear and I don’t like it, I can hum or sing something to distract myself; I don’t need to play Duelling Earbuds with someone.
I won’t give up my books for a Kindle or my Moleskine notebook for a netbook. I don’t want to be that dependent on electricity, on wireless, on connections I can’t control. We recently spent four days at work without internet, local networking, or phone because our network went down. Our central hall, usually bustling with computer users, was empty as a wasteland. Yet one of the older librarians was able to look up subject headings in a book and tell me what call number and what department to search for books on Mt. Everest. Pen, notebook, and printed matter are sturdy, reliable technologies that run mostly on solar power, and best of all, I can close them up and put them away when I want to be intimate with someone or be silent and by myself.
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