What Happened To Hello?

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I was at a store the other day, bringing my purchases to the check-out. The woman behind the register was busy discussing her schedule with the manager standing next to her. She continued her conversation while she scanned my items, put them in a bag, pressed some buttons, and handed me the receipt. She continued her conversation as I took the bag and walked out the door. She never looked at me. We never spoke a word.

Surely, we have all commented at some point about the big-brother machine who is, at this very moment, learning everything about us. Recording for unknown purposes, all there is to know — where we shop, how much we spend, what toilet paper we prefer. Technology allows him to know those things by its very nature.

But, have we stopped to think who isn’t knowing us? What conversations we’re not having because of the technology we so readily embrace?

I wonder, often, why we feel the need to be so intravenously connected to our phone, our ipod, our computer, our television. Are we so afraid of our own silence, our own aloneness, that we just can’t unplug?

And I wonder, in the process of staying connected, what are we missing?

The other day, I was walking along a trail that wanders through salt marsh and shoreline. It was a beautiful summer afternoon, cool and bright. An osprey couple soared across the blue sky. The breeze played the marsh grass like song. It was so quiet, a field mouse scurrying nearby interrupted my thoughts, and I stopped to watch him for a while.

And then a woman walked by, cell phone in hand. Her head bent forward watching her feet, she chatted endlessly about her grocery list and her car trouble. Louder, louder, louder…until she passed me and continued on her way. She missed the mouse. She missed me.

I have been blessed by magical conversations, haven’t you? I’ve met best friends. Fallen in love. Been surprised by chance encounters with people I hadn’t known before — and now do. We’re all strangers, really, we’re all alone, until we talk to each other. Until we say hello.


From the archives, while I work on finishing my book. Words and photo, ©2008, Jen Payne.


Disconnected

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About a year ago, my dear and trusted little point-and-shoot camera broke. Not totally broke, but damaged in such a way that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Given the rapid evolution of technology, I suppose my 11-year-old camera should have been put out to pasture long ago, but it’s a sweet thing that’s been my regular companion on many adventures (like France) and still takes lovely photos — when it decides to cooperate.

As backup, I’ve resorted to using my iPhone for picture-taking, which is fun and makes me feel like I’m participating in the 21st century. But it is not a camera camera — even if it makes that clicky noise when I push its button — and I’ve had a camera camera in my pocket for as long as I can remember.

Two weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought a new camera camera, a Canon PowerShot A1400 with a nifty zoom feature and a wide-angle lens. AND it has a view finder — happy dance — which makes framing and seeing subjects a lot easier than a backlit screen in sunlight.

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Alas, there are things my new camera camera cannot do:

It cannot send emails.
It cannot make phone calls.
It cannot access the internet.
It cannot receive text messages.

And so it was that I found myself yesterday on one of my first adventures with my new camera camera, walking in the about-to-be-spring woods.

I could not send emails.
I could not make phone calls.
I could not access the internet.
I could not receive text messages.

Which is not to say that I regularly send emails or make phone calls while I am enjoying my walks, but with the iPhone there is the ever-present possibility of those connections. There is the constant seduction of technology right at my fingertips, the buzz and ding of incoming — INCOMING! — chatter. The familiar impetus to leave here and be somewhere else, even if here is the most glorious place I could be.

Yesterday, I left my iPhone at home. It was just me and my camera camera and the most quiet walk I have enjoyed since June.

Happy Dance!

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Leaving Everywhereness

There’s a commercial on television for Facebook’s new mobile feature that shows a woman visiting a museum. Her cell phone beeps and the photo she receives replaces the framed Birth of Venus in front of her. It beeps again, and the statue she walks by turns into a replica of her friend. When it beeps a third time, she gets an instant message, which a museum guard repeats to her, “Us girls are going dancing tonight, U in?”

The message is the same as the commercial showing a family on a camping trip zipped up inside their tent staring at their iPad — why be present when you can be somewhere else?

My recent series of posts was titled “Great Cape Escape,” but did I really escape? It didn’t matter that the hotel’s wi-fi only worked if I was sitting with my laptop on the bathroom floor, my iPhone with its “everywhereness” allowed me instant access to everything and everyone — 200 miles from home, 5 miles down the beach or 3 miles out into the ocean.

It turns out, being present — being here, in this moment — takes even more effort now than it did when Buddha suggested we “concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

Our present moment now includes everyone else’s present moments that are broadcast on Facebook and emails and blogs and websites and Twitter tweets.

Our present moment now includes these multifunctional devices that serve as our phone, camera, clock, message machine, compass, book, entertainment console, umbilical cord. Like Medusa, it’s hard to look away.

It takes mindfulness to disconnect from that everywhereness, that everythingness — you know as well as I do how seductive it is. But as we move forward, as our technology feeds our technology, we have to learn to set boundaries.

They like to tell say you have a right to everywhereness. But you also have a right to shut it off, to look up from the tiny little screens and see the big picture — right now, this moment. Go!

Luddite, Lemming or Just Listening to a Different iPod Playlist?

On my dining room table sits a brand new iPhone, still in its packaging.  “You have to hand it to Apple,” I said when it arrived. “They sure do know design.” The box, the compartments for accessories, the origami-folded envelope with instructions, the sleek iPhone — so distinctly Applesque.

But so far, that’s the only positive thing I’ve had to say about the newest member of my burgeoning arsenal of things that go beep, whirr, and ding.

A friend affectionately called me a “luddite” recently — someone opposed to increased industrialization or new technology. In my mind, I see Gary Larson’s “lemmings”—unthinkingly joining a mass movement headlong. If I’m feeling particularly snarky I may mutter “resistance is futile” in my best sci-fi Borg impression.

Surely there is some middle ground. I am neither one who is completely opposed to technology — my very livelihood is dependent on it — nor am I one who has ever blindly or willingly followed the crowd.

The truth is, I have been happily typing and creating and designing and otherwise enjoying Apple’s inventions since before many of you even thought to own a computer in your home. I am an email addict, a devout blogger, and a writer and artist who relies on the internet and software applications to bring my ideas to fruition on a daily basis.

And yet…

And yet I am having a hard time being enthusiastic about this new wave of technology that we find ourselves caught up in — iPhones and iPads and iPods and iYeyYey.

I would not go so far as to agree with Albert Einstein, who said “I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.” There is great potential in our technology to connect us with each other and with amazing and beautiful things.

But I just think we need time to catch up. Technology has far surpassed our current mores — our manners and etiquette, our boundaries, our budgets, our expectations. It has far surpassed mine, anyhow.

Last week I lost power for several days due to the hurricane that invaded the east coast. I suspect I was in a small circle of folks who celebrated the opportunity to be completely off the grid. I read a book. I did yoga. I napped. I went for two walks a day. I wrote in a spiral-bound journal.

“You know you can do those things any day,” a friend reminded me.  But can you? Can you when there are more and more and more distractions to plug into? Like the iPhone that is still sitting in its box on my dining room table? I don’t know.

I am reminded of a quote I read many, many years ago in high school when I felt as much out-of-step with my peers as I sometimes do now.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden. “Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

They tell me there is an app for that:

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©2012, Jen Payne with appreciation to Gary Larson (The Far Side) and the Star Trek franchise for the accompanying artwork.

Technology or Cheese: You Decide

In a recent commencement address, President Obama noted that with technology, “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

On the same day I read that, I saw this post on Jennifer Louden’s blog Comfort Queen:

“For a few years now, I’ve been curious about the hounds of more, more, more! The hounds of more bay: Try this! Learn this! Write this! Take this retreat! Go here! More, more, more!” They’re the voices that yip at me, and my clients and readers, until we want to get a lobotomy: anything for some inner silence.”

Seth Godin, in an April post on his blog, asked, “The relevant discussion here: are the incoming messages helping?…Is it possible the noise is helping you hide from the stuff that scares you?”

I have been struggling with these thoughts for a while now. What is the role of technology in my life? How can I best make use of it, but still keep a balance with the more tangible and organic parts of life—relationships; moving and spending time outside; being creative; finding quiet, meditative moments?

My sister sometimes says, “I just want to go make cheese somewhere,” and I fantasize about this a lot. OK, I’m lactose intolerant, so maybe “I just want to go make pies,” but you know what I mean, right? A cozy cabin in Vermont or Maine, with ample time to read, write, make art, go for long walks, plant a garden. All of that and totally off the grid—no cable, computer, cell phone, ipad, iphone, wii…

But I know that’s not very practical. I’m an email junkie as much as the next person. And technology has been a partner in my creative efforts for more than 20 years!

So what is the solution? How do I respond to the incoming messages that I must be connected and “on” 24 hours a day, seven days a week? That each new technology is a must-have and equates to my “success”? That every social network demands my participation? And that if I am not part of all of this, I am somehow passé and irrelevant?

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Technology presumes there’s just one right way to do things and there never is. – Robert M. Pirsig

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Related Links:
6 Ways to End the Ick of Perfectionism, Overwhelm and Procrastination without Getting a Lobotomy, Comfort Queen
“Incoming”, Seth Godin

©2010, Jennifer Payne