Putting down tools and looking around
This isn’t a New Year’s resolution as much as it is a New Year’s recognition — and it’s one I’ve had before, and can’t figure out how to solve.
In a Winnipeg restaurant, soaring brick walls and a fire crackling incongruously on a broad, wall-mounted television monitor, I peered over my shoulder at a couple out for a quiet dinner for two, both resolutely studying the bright faces of their cellphones and then texting someone not at dinner, and I thought about how clearly the electronic world spells out that, wherever we are, we’re trapped in the knowledge — the fear, maybe — that we’re missing something better.
We all do it — think of all the family gatherings you might have just been at, and stop and think about how many times you might have seen a family member with their spine bent into that particular and obvious “I’m checking my smart phone” curve.
There, among the hubbub of family and friends, there’s always someone looking for the life ring of “something better away.”
We are more and more addicted to the siren song of our electronics and the strange, almost Pavlovian reaction that we have that, somewhere out there in that electronic space, a better world beckons.
But it doesn’t really work. Try thinking of the last email that made your world transformatively better. Try thinking of the last one you absolutely had to have. Then think about how many emails have flowed through your life since then. Then there’s Facebook. I don’t like Facebook: it makes me sad. I wish that I could simply vanish from it. Every day, when I log on, people are having happier lives: eating better food, visiting more interesting places, launching more successful ventures. Yet, every day, I log on, hoping, I guess, that something transformative awaits.
I think that I just might use my account in a more anarchistic way: to make other people feel better, I think I’ll start posting photos of where the cat threw up, of meals that were catastrophes, of March St. John’s weather that breaks hearts. The kind of thing that others would see and say, “My world’s not really all that bad after all.”
What do I want the New Year to bring? Well, I know that, given my work, bailing out on the electronic world is simply not an option: too much information flows my way on that highway.
I just hope that I can learn to reach for it less, when emails make the phone buzz or ring like a bell: perhaps, somehow, we can find a way to recognize that we’re the ones who are supposed to be in command of the tools, instead of the other way around.