My mom was talking to me this weekend about a commercial she’d seen for a new car. It involved a group of people tossing their smart phones into a wood chipper, then being asked how they felt about it. One girl’s reply was that she felt a bit sick.
Personally I think I’d be looking for a bigger, cooler object to shred, like maybe an old desktop that’s given me trouble. And I would want back the $600 I paid for the phone (in the hypothetical world where I own a smartphone in the first place).
My relationship to technology is a lot like a carpenter and his tools. I work with all sorts of gadgets, and I do buy things so that I can have some specialized new functionality. Just recently I bought a $6 bluetooth keyboard for my tablet (after looking through literally 1000’s of options). But I don’t live on my gear (all appearances to the contrary), they’re just tools in my toolbox.
One of the first things I do when starting a new writing project is to put together my “go bag.” Typically this involves going to the thrift store to find something cool with all the right compartments I need (I have probably as many laptop/computer bags as some people have purses). My latest is an orange sport bag with a nice thin profile, lots of pockets, and a total cost of $3.
For my current writing projects, I’m trying to work without always carrying around a laptop. I have a couple of good on-the-go computers, but the boot-up time and battery life can hamper opportunities to write in odd locations. The kind of projects I’m working on now benefit from the ability to whip out a keyboard, type for fifteen minutes, then pack up. My tablet can carry large amounts of reading material, music, and media, everything I need to be productive in small bursts.
But as much as I work on computers or tablets, there are still tasks that call for old fashioned pencil and paper. I think a lot of authors romanticize fancy journals, leather-bound notebooks with wrap-around ties, something that looks like an ancient scribe that will lead you to the ark of the covenant. I’m susceptible to this as much as the next person, though I’ve divested myself somewhat of the notion that I’m going to fill these books with wonderfully profound short-stories or thoughts. Usually I just use them for taking notes.
This still can require specialized equipment. Because I have a small bag I want something small, sturdy, with a lot of pages, and a little cool looking. Since I’m taking math notation, I need a gridded notebook that meets these parameters (bought my first Moleskine brand notebook this week). I’ve heard that notation on paper can aid in retention of information, though truthfully it’s just as much about speed and not having to flip back and forth between what I’m reading on my tablet and my notes.
My point is, I carry around abilities, not gadgets.
Some of those abilities are purely entertainment based, and some are more practical, but the tools are not part of me. Short of worries about losing notes, having to replace items, or being worried about credit card information, these devices are just gear. It’s gear I trade in and out based on the needs of the moment. I make some effort to be connected, to check-in on social media, to tweet an appropriate number of times, and to write these posts, but it’s not the primary function of anything I carry. It’s the nail-file on my Leatherman. Occasionally useful, but not primarily why I have the device.
Maybe part of it is that I spread out my gear. No one device has all my contacts, music, pictures, writing, etc. I try to keep things roughly interchangeable, to allow for my cycling of moods between trying to carry the minimum possible, and the whole kitchen sink. And I like specialized devices rather than multi-purpose ones. I actually think there’s a benefit to something that can only do one thing, my eReader is still the device on which I do the most reading, not my tablet, because there are fewer distractions.
I worry as I write this that I sound anachronistic, out of touch with modern culture and devices. My refusal to own a smartphone already puts me dangerously close to the Grandpa class. Heck, my Dad has a smartphone, and loves it. But I think skepticism is healthy. Then again, you are reading the opinions of a bearded man whose dream is to live in a cabin in the woods. So take that for what it’s worth.
I think at the very least we should examine our relationship to devices from time to time. And if the thought of losing them makes us sick, maybe it’s time to pull back a little.