Phone Home?

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My son’s iPhone died recently, and it was sort of like losing a limb for him. He emailed us to inform us about it and to let us know he would be going to the Apple store to see if the phone could be saved. My husband asked him to borrow a friend’s phone and give us a call to talk about the options should the phone not be salvageable. The only wrinkle was that our son has no idea what our phone numbers are.

This is one of the casualties of the digital age. No one memorizes other people’s phone numbers. And no one keeps a paper address book so that they can retrieve the number even when their phone is on the fritz. Instead, a dead phone means the total loss of all the contacts stored within it. I pride myself on memorizing numbers easily. Just ask me to rattle off my credit card or drivers license number. But even I struggled when my other son got a new phone number through his work and I tried to memorize it. Since the number was stored in my iPhone contacts, I didn’t really need to dial (antiquated term!) the number. So it took me months and deliberate effort to commit my son’s number to memory.

This difficulty with phone numbers is not the only loss that has come with the digital age.  Our dependence on technology has affected other parts of our lives. Take, for instance, the art of writing. The vast majority of people never put pen to paper, choosing instead to send emails, type essays on the computer, or jot notes electronically in their cell phones. I can foresee a future in which pens and writing implements actually become obsolete. Yet research has shown that people retain information better when they physically write it down on paper. (Just ask any shopper who left her grocery list at home on the counter!)

Our ability to gather information has also become dependent on technology. Without the internet, most people wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to do research. We wouldn’t be able to find phone numbers and addresses of local businesses. Some of us would have a hard time getting our shopping done. My cousin went back to college in the not too distant past to get a bachelors degree in a new subject. When called upon to do a research project with a small group, my cousin went old school. She gathered a number of books on the subject, sat her group down, and had them sift through the information in the books to solve the hypothetical problem posed in the assignment. The small group of Millennials were a bit dumbfounded by this method, but most agreed that they got a lot out of searching for information in this way.

Advances in technology are beneficial to productivity and often make life easier for us. I’m grateful for all the ways technology has helped me perform household chores, kept me warm or cool depending upon the season, and made it easier to find what I’m looking for. But just as the use of calculators made people forget how to do basic arithmetic, the use of computers (including those mini ones in our pockets) has caused some of our basic mental and physical skills to atrophy. I think a balance between the old and the new would be a helpful way to get the best of both worlds.

Maybe E.T. could have phoned home more easily if he had just written down the number!

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World Wide Web

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It used to be that when I got up in the morning, I would make a pot of coffee, sit down with my breakfast and open the newspaper. You remember those, right? Rolled up bundles of newsprint thrown on your lawn from an old Chevy at 6 in the morning? If you’re really old, you remember some 12-year-old flinging yours from a bag on his shoulder as he rode his bike along the quiet streets.

Nowadays, while the coffee is brewing, I fire up the laptop and start to peruse the lighted screen. If I am feeling diligent, I do some writing. After all, that memoir is not going to write itself. Then I check my email and Facebook. Here is where I feel myself getting sucked into the web. Before I know it, two hours have gone by, and I have little to show for it.

The internet has been both blessing and curse. If I need to find anything – a fact, a phone number, or a place to host my kid’s birthday party – I just Google it. Yes, that word is now a verb. I picture the creator of Google, not as a savvy business person, but as an evil mastermind developing the ultimate addictive drug – instant information. Soon I am Googling everything from SAT statistics for a blog post to new Nike shoes for my son to the name of the actress on that old Seventies TV series, “The Partridge Family.” (It’s Susan Dey, by the way.)

It is also more than a little unsettling to find the results of your online shopping scrolling down in ads on your Facebook page. Facebook recently received flak for doing a psychological experiment with people’s moods as they used the social website. Is there any doubt in our minds that the employees over there are cackling maniacally while tinkering with our brains?

Remember when Al Gore took credit for inventing the internet? Well, it’s a good thing Bush stole that election from him in 2000 because if Gore had been president, he would have used the internet to completely manipulate our thought processes and enslave us with technology. I’m pretty sure we would all be marching in lock step while chanting things like, “Parental warnings on CDs” and “Global warming is killing us!” 

How many cute but useless memes do I have to read before I awaken from my stupor? How many clever You Tube videos do I have to watch before I realize I should be doing something more productive? Maybe if I received a “Like” every time I got the dishes or laundry done, I would be more motivated. As I write this, it is only 9:25 am here in the heartland. I think there is still time to salvage the day. 

I’m getting off the internet right now and unrolling that mysterious bundle I found at the end of my driveway this morning.