My printer is on strike, and I'm ready to torch the wretched thing. It's the end of the year, and I have permission slips and registration forms to print out Like Right Now!
At moments like this, I recognize how dependent I am on technology that let's us get a whole lot accomplished with a few keystrokes.
As a general rule, I have an anti-technological bent. Take cell phones, for instance. I was one of the last people I know to get one. And my current phone? Tim and Kolbe are forever lamenting the sheer and utter lameness of it.
"You can't do anything," they bemoan.
I point out that I purchased my phone, oddly enough, to make phone calls. I do not want to surf the net on my phone; I do not want to order plane tickets using my phone; I do not want to examine my conscience with the help of that handy Catholic app; I don't care to watch re-runs of Downton Abbey on a 2 x 3 inch screen.
All this my children find absolutely incomprehensible.
Yes, I have an anti-technological bent, and I freely admit it. This dates back to my college days when I would stroll the streets of Ann Arbor en route to class. I would routinely spot my friend Mary Ann and give her a wave. Without fail, Mary Ann would walk on by absorbed in her Walkman and the alternative music ringing in her ears.
This drove me crazy.
It's the beginning of the end as we know it, I would think to myself. I pretty much still think that way.
Fast forward twenty-five years. I'm sitting around eating chips and salsa with a group of friends. All of us needed to get out of the house and waste some time together. Out of seven women at a table, five were on their phones. Oh, there were good reasons for this. One friend was calling to check on another who hadn't shown up. Someone brought up a recipe she had just tried, and two women felt compelled to look it up right that very second. And on it went.
My friend was frustrated because her twleve-year-old daughter claimed to be the only girl in her class who didn't have a phone. Turns out most of these girls have an Ipod Touch -- looks just like a phone, but it's used to text, not chat. Of course this begs a basic question: Why does a twelve-year-old need to text? How do you ride a bike, climb a tree, or jump rope with an Ipod Touch in your hand? Back in the day, if we had an urgent message for our BFF, we picked up the telephone, ran next door, or passed a note during class. So nineteen seventies.
Speaking of the seventies . . . I have never watched That Seventies Show, but I did catch a five minute clip that made me laugh. The husband is describing this new-fangled invention called the VCR that can tape a TV show. The wife gets a puzzled look on her face and asks,"If you want to watch TV, why not just stay home?"
We've all watched people text at Mass on Easter Sunday. We've all attended family gatherings during which teenagers (and adults!) logged hours on their Smart phones doing who knows what. I sat behind a father at a school play and watched him gaming nearly non-stop as his daughter performed. He barely paused to look up.
As adults, you and I are Johnny Come Lately to this digital world. Our children are cutting their teeth on it. Seriously. Have you seen the commercial for some sort of rocking horse that plugs into the TV and provides a video game experience to a baby who can scarcely walk?
What happens when imagination, concentration, and conscience are all formed at a hundred million bits per second?
Who knows? Who knows?
In and of themselves, electronic devices are neutrals. Certainly, there are huge benefits to some of the electronic breakthroughs. I remember with vivid detail the night I ended up with a flat tire halfway between Columbia, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia. It was a terrifying experience to be a woman alone on a highway miles from the nearest phone. This will be a problem I hope my sweet Ainsley (or any of my children) never has to face.
Cell phones have a million mundane uses -- the toilet paper left off at the grocery list, the quick text to say you're running late, the ability to send everyone a timely update on a baby's arrival or the outcome of a surgery.
Yet, there is a flip side to this: Technology can become an ever-present intruder in every conversation, dinner, outing, and drive.
Elizabeth Foss, commenting on all the recent hoopla surrounding Attachment Parenting, penned a sentence that spoke volumes to me: Truly, if we let it, technology can destroy parenting as God intended it. A tool for the good can be used for ill to the detriment of generations.
This was written not by a woman living on an isolated farm, but by a mother of many, an author, an influential online presence, a woman who blogs and texts and tweets and who sees that our ever-connected state brings with it a fragmentation that costs us something.
We can de-fragment our hard drives, but can we de-fragment our relationships and our habits and our minds?
I may not spend hours playing with an IPhone. I'm not exactly sure what Farmville is, and I am fairly confident I can die a whole and fulfilled person if I never find out. I will never (ever, ever, ever) take an online quiz to determine which one of The Seven Dwarfs is my kindred spirit or which character from Gone With the Wind most resonates with me.
But this blogging gig? Listen carefully and you will hear a sucking sound from the ever growing vortex of wasted time wrought by my foray into the world of online self-publishing.
We all have our vices. I certainly have mine.
If I had lived a hundred years ago, I would have lamented that the invention of the typewriter would replace good penmanship. I would have been the person suspicious of TV pushing out radio as a form of family entertainment. Today I wring my hands wondering if the young people in my life will know that K is actually spelled Okay and 2moro is actually Tomorrow.
In the middle of drafting this, Dave called to chat about the kids and to get an update on the household woes that bombard us non-stop when he is out of town. He offered a few quick fixes for the mis-behaving printer, and then added, "If you get desperate, you can print something at the neighbor's."
"Yes," I told him, "but that require using a thumb drive."' Which -- believe it or not -- I have never once used!
He recommended I not go next door with floppy disk in hand