technically speaking

I’m not anti technology but it drives me nuts all the same.  I hate being advertised to.  I hate commercials.  I hate billboards blocking my view of farmland and trees and blue sky.  My obvious bias is that technology is just one big marketing tool. A distraction.  A couple weeks ago a Sunday ad for blackberries or netbooks or some such appendage boasted, €œTotal Freedom!  Always Be Connected!€  And I thought to myself, €œHow is that freedom?€  If a prisoner is shackled securely the only person free is the guard.  Sorry that was a bit overstated, but really, who wants to be connected all the time? 
1,2,3, Not it. 
I have a habit of disconnecting.  Maybe too much so.  For practical and economic reasons my wife and I have cell phones and no land line.  I turn mine off at the point in the day that I don’t want to be bothered.  Usually between 6 or 7.  I don’t think this is unreasonable.  The (perceived) problem is that I sometimes forget to turn it back on.  Usually I remember by mid afternoon the next day, but on occasion it’s been 2 or 3 days. 
And I have yet to miss an important call. 
A few months ago we moved into a new house.  We haven’t decided what to do about cable/internet stuff.  We used to have basic cable because it made our internet package cheaper.  And since our TV is older than our children (by about 10 years) cable allowed us to watch TV post digital broadcasting.  So now, in this new house, we are internet and TV free.  Actually, my wife picks up our old signal still (an advantage of only moving across the alley) and we still bust out DVD’s for Saturday morning cartoons, so it’s not like we’ve gone 100% hippy, but still it’s been a change.  For the better.  Generally I’ve found that quality of life increases in the absence of technology. 
I grew up with bed time stories.  I have great memories of laying in bed and my Mom reading Chronicles of Narnia to me and my brother while I fought to stay awake.  I don’t remember watching TV as a kid.  I mean, I watched it, but there are no memories attached to it.  And in fact now that I think about the only TV memory I have is falling in love with MacGyver as a fifth grader, which is funny considering the thing I loved about MacGyver was his instinct to eschew technology in favor of a knife and duct tape.  So even as a fifth grader my use of TV was a bit subversive.
Granted, most of my formative viewing years were spent in a village in Liberia West Africa, so even though I was the desired audience I was a hard to reach target.  Towards the end of our time in Liberia we had solar panels and 12 volt lights that we could use at night.  Until that point we had kerosene lamps and candles at night.  And that’s what we read our stories by. 

Here in St. Paul we generally read stories by the light of a two foot christmas tree that our eldest rediscovered in the move.  By putting it up in October Lydia actually beat Menards to the season, but only by a week.  Anyway, Jodi or I lay next to the girls and read stories at night.  We’re on book six of the Little House series, the Long Winter.  I was never a big Little House fan, but I’ve kind of gotten into it.  In fact, we all have to the point that even when only one parent is necessary for the bed time routine we generally both end up there for the story.  I’ve even been tempted to read ahead during the day while Lydia’s at school.
During the long winter the Ingalls run out of kerosene for their lantern.  It’s the part in the story where they’re existing in Minnesota in February in a wood shack with nothing but wheat flour to live on and hay to burn for fuel.  I say ‘existing’ because it hardly seems like living.  Were I the Pa at this point I would’ve wandered off into the snow never to be seen again.  But what does fiddle playing Pa Ingalls do?  Bemoans the fact that they had become so dependent on kerosene lamps and reminisces how much easier life was when they weren’t burdened by such technologies.  Something tell me Pa rolled over in his grave when he found out his life was being made into a TV show. 
These thoughts on technology have been on mind a lot lately.  I’m thankful for technology €“ it’s not that I want to get all Amish on the world (okay, secretly I do, but let’s keep that a secret) €“ I’m thankful for this computer that I’m typing on that allows me to make a living as a writer and musician.  I’m thankful for cars and electricity and power tools and paint sprayers and even on occasion cell phones.  But I’m also wary.  Not to be the eternal wet blanket but I can’t help but wonder how much of technology has become a distraction for me.  How many times I’ve ignored my family to check out a new guitar pedal on line or all the time I spend coming up with blog ideas while my daughter wants me to make play-do cookies with her.  Not an entirely hypothetical question.

There are broader distractions also.  I’m reading What is the What by Dave Eggers.  It’s the biography of a ‘Lost Boy’ from Sudan.  I can’t help but wonder where the rest of the world was while this kid was wandering across the desert watching his friends die of starvation and disease as they fled their home for Ethiopia.  Probably watching sit coms.  Changing the oil on an ATV.  Putting new pedals on a bike.  Mowing the lawn.  Updating their status.  Writing a blog.  I told you I was a wet blanket.
We could all turn off our TV’s.  And our crackberries and our gps’s and whoknowswhatsits.  It might not make a hill of beans difference.  Or it might slow us down enough to see what’s going on around us.  It might not stop a war, but it might make our homes more peaceful.  It may not increase our world view, but maybe in a small hopeful way it will allow us to live in solidarity with our neighbors, past, present, and future. 

Posted: November 16th, 2009
Categories: family, friendship
Comments: 3 Comments.

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