Extra Pulp: System Overload
After losing her phone, Laura Anders Lee ponders the pros and cons of our technology-driven lives.
I recently lost my iPhone. One minute it was there, and the next it was gone. I searched the house, retraced my steps, then frantically retraced my steps again with no luck.
I messaged my husband from my computer, then for the first time in a decade left the house without a cell phone. Even though my pocket was empty, I reached for my phone every 20 minutes like a tic. I went to a meeting, ran to the grocery store, and picked up the kids from school feeling completely naked.
Later that evening, a neighbor found my phone—I had dropped it while jogging and a car ran over it. A new one was delivered the next day. But I realized that, aside from my intial panic, I had actually felt liberated. For 24 hours I had been unburdened of the constant need to check and recheck my phone.
The entire incident made me realize how dependent I am on technology. So much has advanced since my first AOL account in 1994—for better, for worse. Car trips have never gone more smoothly now that my boys have their own tablets. I love downloading books and shopping online. I skip busy bank lines for online deposits. I watch Saturday Night Live on Sunday morning and football games in 2 hours instead of 4. I relish photos, milestones and birthdays from friends on Facebook and Instagram. Apps help me keep up with my children’s classwork, call an Uber, tell me the wait time for Space Mountain, and change the temperature on my thermostat. I can answer my kids’ questions immediately on Google, have dance parties with Alexa, and pay my sitter with Venmo when I’m all out of cash.
But technology drives me crazy, too. Anders and William, who are 9 and 7, are obsessed with YouTube. Instead of playing with toys or pulling pranks, they watch other kids play with toys and pull pranks.
Self-checkouts are like a bad episode of The Jetsons. Once at the grocery store, my machine kept repeating in a maddening loop, “Put the item in the bagging area. Remove the item from the bagging area. Put the item in the bagging area,” until a flesh-and-blood employee came to help.
Too much connectivity is suffocating. Your inbox is just one click away, and your boss knows it. Everyone expects an immediate reply to a text message, even when it’s not convenient or even important. Since when did responding to a text become more urgent than anything else—even driving?
Throughout the day, I find myself picking up my phone for no good reason. Why am I compelled to stay busy doing and not just simply being? I can’t even pause for a deep breath unless my Apple Watch reminds me first.
Technology has made it easier to communicate with friends far away, yet prevents us from speaking to the person right next to us. At the park or the gym where we once engaged with people, we now stare down at our phones.
While designed to bring us together, social media can be isolating. I recently noticed an entire table at a restaurant scrolling their feeds and not even talking to one another. Sometimes when I’m lonely and turn to Facebook and Instagram for company, I feel worse. Picture-perfect images flash before my eyes, while my chaotic life at home feels quite the opposite. I can only imagine how left out a teenage girl must feel when she sees a slumber party on Snapchat. FOMO—Fear of Missing Out—is at an all-time high.
As more technology permeates our household and my children’s lives, I have a few wishes for them.
First, I hope Anders and William will allow themselves to be bored. Instead of mindlessly flicking on the remote or their tablets, they’ll discover an old puzzle, build a fort out of cardboard boxes or write a comic book. After they’ve played the latest video game, they’ll go outside to chase the dog and climb a tree. After being with a virtual friend online, they’ll ride their bikes to a friend’s and ask them to play.
I hope they’ll get lost, then find their way home using their own good sense rather than GPS. They’ll mail handwritten thank-you notes and break up with someone—or be broken up with—face to face and not over text. They’ll visit libraries and know the smell of books. They’ll look cashiers, teachers and bosses in the eye and strike up a friendly conversation with a complete stranger.
Above all, I hope they’ll remember that keeping up with their contacts is more important than keeping up with the latest technology. No matter how much changes, the greatest connection will always be with another person.