Putting down tools and look­ing around

The Compass - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic Re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc; his col­umn ap­pears on Tues­days, Thurs­days and Satur­days in TC Me­dia’s daily pa­pers.

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.

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