e-i-e-i- Oh no: Letter from a Luddite
I’m a Luddite. I realize the irony of blogging about this, but since I can’t send a message via Pony Express I have to work with what I have. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how much easier my life has become now that I don’t have to mimeograph things. [Okay, I never had to mimeograph things and I actually don’t even know what that means, it just sounded old-timey.] I can listen to my personal choice of music from just about anywhere without bothering anyone or throwing out my back (remember boomboxes?), and when I want to talk to my aunt in China, or my sister in Seattle, all I have to do is send an email to let her know I’m thinking about her. Or we can Skype, which is even better.
I don’t hate technology at all. I see the green-ness of reducing paper waste and saving space. I just am wary of putting everything on a computer, and I’m a late adopter. Very late. I still have the iPod Nano 4G, which is elderly compared to the current sixth-generation model. I have what I call a “regular intelligence” phone, and that suits me just fine. I don’t need my phone to be smart, I just need it to make calls. And occasionally to text. I want to spend less time online, not more. Whenever I hear about the newest gadget, or each time Gmail or Facebook undergoes a mandatory makeover, all I can think is Oh no. Another thing to master. It feels wasteful to upgrade or change or get the next model just because I can.
And to be honest, I miss you. Remember when we used to get together and just be together? Not glance at our phones to see if anyone called, or check our email or Facebook, or spend half the time texting someone else. Remember the fun of getting something in your mailbox? Real mail, before it we called it snail mail. While I appreciate that today’s relationships can more easily stay intact, I wonder how many kids will spend hours pouring over Mom and Dad’s email exchanges, if they’d even save them. Whatever you said to someone on gChat the other night can hardly measure up to the palpable aching you find in an old-fashioned love letter.
I love that I can keep in touch with friends all over the world but I miss getting letters. I miss seeing your handwriting and knowing this came from you. I miss knowing people personally. I feel like I know a lot of people superficially but not that many people deep down, because I can click through your pictures online but we never sit down and chat anymore. When the phone rang, you answered because you had no idea who called if you didn’t. Now you can just text and never actually have to converse with someone, face to face. We’re more connected and more disconnected at the same time. The i-thises and e-thats make our lives easier but they have begun to detract from real life. They take up so much brain space and attention that I have less and less room for real memories and important information.
My Literary Memoir class read Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory and some of my classmates marveled over how much he could remember. I argued that we have so many distractions nowadays that it is much harder to keep track of everything. He didn’t have iPhones and iPods and iPads–he just had “I.” And that probably made it easier to remember things. He didn’t have the latest episode of “How I Met Your Mother” competing with the vision of his mother riding in a sleigh for space in his brain. I mean, that was a really funny episode–how could the simple image of his mother gliding through the snow ever have a chance?
It has been said that the web means the end of forgetting, which is true. Not long ago you could make a mistake–trip into a fountain, fall off a platform, or make a stupid comment–and only people who were there saw it, and only people they knew heard about it later. Now, every mistake is immortalized on YouTube, and you will never live down that time you seemed drunk while delivering the nightly news. But I would say the web means the end of remembering as well. If you wanted to know something before, you had to remember it. There was no “Google” or “YouTube” or “Wikipedia” to consult. You had to write it down or own a book on it. You had to commit it to memory. Now we don’t even commit to a cell phone longer than six months.
I miss the time when cordless phones were new technology. I miss the time when playing games with friends meant four of us, a bowl of popcorn, and the Monopoly board. Most of all, I miss you. Call me. Write me. I’d even take an email. Or text.