Put That Damn Thing Away!

I like writing in coffee shops. There’s little expectation of being forced to interact with others except in the brief period of ordering the drink that permits me to sit here for hours on end. If I pick up one of the cold mochas, I don’t even have to wait for it to be brewed. This is a room full of people in their own little world. I’m sitting here listening to the Ink soundtrack working on The Sky Below and blog posts, while someone else is studying for exams, and still someone else is watching How I Met Your Mother. In my immediate line of sight in front and in back of me there are maybe eight people, all of whom have laptops, tablets and notebooks where they are thoroughly engrossed in whatever it was they came here to do.

And that’s fine, coffee shops are a place for work. Maybe occasionally a place for discussion with friends, but keep that stuff to the comfy chairs in the corner, and don’t be too loud so I don’t hear you through my headphones.

I’m all about appropriate places for technology. But I equally think there are times we need to turn the devices off and be focused on the world around us.

Take my commute Friday morning. On my way out I spotted a woman going out for a run. She didn’t have headphones in as far as I could see, but she did have both thumbs firmly planted on a smart phone, and was obviously texting or doing some other social media task while she was taking shuffle steps forward. She made no particular effort not to be too far out into the road, and if her purpose was exercise I don’t think she was getting much out of it except for her fingers.

If you’re going to run, put the headphones in, hit play, put the player around your arm, then eyes up people!

My wife dinged me the other week when we were leaving a hotel on our way back to Columbus. Now this was a six hour drive, and I pass six hour drives by sleeping and/or reading, usually one leading into the other. And she’s fine with that. But we’d maybe been in the car for two minutes before I whipped out a tablet. I mean, there’s not a lot to see in a parking garage, but I could have at least made an attempt at conversation, or so I’m told.

All of us have moments when we think technology is appropriate and ones where we don’t. Personally I hate having smart phone people around when I’m trying to remember a piece of trivia, because they feel the need to deprive me of the ability to think of the answer for myself. Then again, I’m the kind of guy who got a kick out a geek card game that asked me to name 30 SNL cast members from memory.

I think a lot of us think texting at the dinner table is rude, but I did grow up in a family where breakfast and often lunch were accompanied by reading. The fact that these were paper books was only a matter of the eReader not being cheap and available. Now it would be my tablet.

I know I’m not engaged when I’m reading, when I’m futzing on the computer, even when I claim to be. I’ve almost always missed the last thing you’ve said, and the old husband ploy of responding to everything with an “I love you” only gets you so far. There are times to work, there are times to play, and there are times to pay attention to each other.

Because that’s what this really is about in a way. Even a guy like me, who isn’t so much into the social world is still saying that the thing I want to do on my computer, whether it’s recompressing comic books, or organizing my files, is more interesting or at least more necessary than paying full attention to you. I claim it’s multi-tasking, or that I don’t like to just watch shows, and these things are true. And sometimes they’re okay. But sometimes you need to make time to be engaged. Admittedly in my case engagement looks more like just having the tablet as opposed to two laptops, a tablet and the TV, but you gotta start somewhere.

Do you feel ridiculous standing in a line just staring and thinking, when everyone else has a tablet or a smart phone? What’s the one place you think technology should never intrude?

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