Do you ever have that overwhelming feeling of inspiration when you are bombarded with about five different blog ideas to write about and instead of just sitting down and dealing with it like a productive human being, you eat a bowl of leftover chicken noodle soup and then crawl into bed and decide to take a nap instead?
But, if I ever did happen to meet someone with that problem, I’d tell them to suck it up, put off your snoozin’ for about 30 minutes (**…but I’m so sleeeepy…**) and write the dang blog posts.
Ok. Here we go.
This post starts with a long winded backstory about my first piece of personally owned technology.
When I was in fourth grade, I decided I wanted my own camcorder. Remember those? Big, chunky things that all of my most treasured childhood memories are stored on? I really can’t tell you why I was so enamored with them– I thought the idea of recording every detail one’s own life, especially a childhood as completely and totally unprecedented and unique as my own (not) needed to be recorded and what better way to do that than by beginning production of my own, personally directed, edited and recorded documentary. (Clearly, not much has changed. Hi, I’m Julia and welcome to my blog where I write short essays about myself.) All of the footage would be compiled and the movie would be called “Julia Patton: A Childhood Completely Different than You Ever Expected: The Story of a Young, Upper-Middle Class, White, Tween Who is Completely Misunderstood in a Wealthy Area of Southern California.” Who wouldn’t want to watch hours and hours of footage of a precocious young me talking about my feelings and emotions with featurettes about the different items in my room and cameo appearances by my parents, sister and special guest friends? It would be groundbreaking.
My parents wisely used my want for something as completely unnecessary as a camcorder to teach the valuable life lesson of working hard for the things you want and told me if I wanted it, I’d be buying it myself. So, for nearly 8 months, I saved every penny (literally), held bake sales in the dead, cold, bitter, California winter, sold candy at the neighborhood swimming pool, licked envelopes for my dad’s company (which my parents paid me A NICKEL for each one I sealed… totally jipped on that one), and withheld all of my birthday and Christmas money from my grandparents just to raise the $249.99 (+ tax) that the Circuit City website promised was the rebate price for my dream camera.
I remember walking into the store with my mom after school one day with a shoe-box of ones and loose change, picking out the camera I had had my eyes on for so long and smiling ear to ear as the very annoyed, pimply, checkout boy counted out all of my money one hard earned nickel at a time. His negative Nancy attitude couldn’t bring me down. I was giving him American Currency! That I had earned! Take it and be grateful, sir! Anyway, all that mattered was that I had the camera in my possession. My first piece of, beautifully packaged, plasticky scented, battery charged, unexplainable, but user friendly piece of technology. I loved it. And it loved me back. And although the documentary never really had the social impact I was aiming for, I was able to dedicate nearly two years of free time as a 9-10 year old to spending hours alone in my room talking to a camera on a tripod in what I fancied a real life confessional– Real Housewives style.
My parents really know what they’re doing because this whole gratification from one’s own hard work concept really took off and worked on me and they repeated the technique over and over and over and over again throughout my life. After my camcorder came my first digital camera (used for many-a-jr. high selfie during after-school play-dates with friends making duck face), and then a pink iPod Mini, and then a RAZR cell phone (one of the last losers in my grade to get my own cell phone. How embarrassing) and then every new generation following. All earned and paid for by me. Let’s hear it for part-time jobs at local bakeries!
Not to mention essentially the invention of social media during my formative tween/teen years. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (and the vast expansion of the internet, globally speaking) and, my personal favorite, Instagram all coming into play while I grew into a young adult. Techonology was booming and it was all mine for the taking!
**I should take the time to mention that although my parents did not buy me these things and have taught me responsibility in regards to money from a very young age through when I turned 16 and paid for my own car, they were in no way overly encouraging of the of technology and closely monitored my activity for quite a while, like any good parent should. Specifically speaking, I wasn’t allowed to use most social media until well into my first year of high school and, much to my shagrin, wasn’t allowed texting on my phone until nearly the end of 8th grade (pretty late considering most of my friends had their first cell phones going into 6th grade) which, back then, felt like a social death sentence. My dad really held fast on that one– not a huge fan of the idea of technology/texting himself, I even had to make large poster-boards, a powerpoint presentation and board-room pitch to my him to please, please, PLEEEEASE let me get texting on my phone. Eventually my parents relented, but it was only after strict and clear guidelines and expectations were set. Like I said, they’re good parents.**
As I’ve grown up with technology, I am constantly in awe of it. I truly love these vehicles in which to communicate in new and interesting ways, not only for the ever-changing technology that they offered, or the convenience they added to my life, but also the beautiful and interesting packages they came in. Web layouts, buttons, lack of buttons, shiny screens, interesting features, software updates, wifi– it’s all like crack to me.
And then there was this summer. I’m in New York– and whether that city is your cup of tea or not, it is arguably one of the most interesting and fast moving cities in the entire world– not only the hub of global technology, an almost constant stream of media and connection, but also of history, art, culture and opportunity. The entire city is, in some way, plugged in. But at what cost? I noticed how much of my day I spent looking at screens or ear buds embedded, ignoring the entire world being offered around me. Technology when I woke up in the morning, technology when I walked to work, killing time at work, on my lunch-break, on my walk home, on the subway, when I got home, before I went to bed plus any downtime in between, you could find me distracting myself with a small, 4 ounce, black brick of shiny plastic and metal. It offers a high speed connection to not only anything you’d ever want to know, but also every person in the entire world. But in my case, it was doing just the opposite.
The more I thought about my own connection to connection, the more I was fascinated by it. I decided to use Facebook as my very first case study. Now, I’m the first to admit that I love a good status update, but why am I so obsessed with sharing my thoughts, pictures and interests with a group of 500 some odd people, most of whom I haven’t seen or talked to in years? And why are those people interested enough in my life to ‘like’ a photo of my friends and me, but not to ever want to spend time with me in person? And why is it that this almost stalkerish viewpoint I have of the people I’ve grown up with, old and new friends, made me feel so bad about myself through comparison? I played with the idea of deleting my Facebook entirely. My first thought was ‘Impossible.’ Facebook has become so completely engrained in the thread of our day to day lives that the idea of deleting it meant losing my online calendar of birthdays and events, my breaking news ticker (relationship status and otherwise) and worst of all, my way of communicating my pithy stream of consciousness status updates with all of the people I had lost touch with over the years, therefore stating to the world that I had basically nothing to offer.
I couldn’t wait to try.
The thought terrified me. But what scared me even more was that I was thinking that way– little technology is ever really a human necessity (and in my case, it certainly isn’t), but it seems to me that we have simply forgotten that mythical time way, way, way back before cell phones and social media when we had to plan ahead to make plans with friends or possibly miss out on something. Or call, leave a message, and wait patiently for our call to be returned. Or, if we really want to throwback Thursday this biotch, let’s talk about freaking writing a letter and waiting by the mailbox FOR DAYS to get one in return!
So I deleted it.
The first time lasted about 14 hours before I logged right back in to see what I’d missed, only to find the answer to that question was that I’d missed absolutely nothing.
The second time really stuck. I was Facebook free for about a month or so when I grew curious again of whether or not my extreme approach of deleting my account might have gone a little too far. After logging back in again, it took me all of about 3 hours to decide that my life without Facebook was lacking in nothing. And when I’d really thought about it, I’d noticed that I’d filled the time I would’ve spent on Facebook with things so much more fulfilling to me than scrolling through a news feed, hitting refresh on pages giving me too much information about someone’s lunch or making judgements about people I barely knew. So I deleted it again and didn’t look back.
Since doing that, it has only greater enhanced my curiosity in regards to my own use of technology. I decided about a week ago to challenge myself again by completely turning off my phone every Tuesday. Last Tuesday was my birthday and I wanted to be able to talk to my friends and family so I decided today would be my first try at it and I’ve got be honest and say that it has been so. hard. Just like when I first got rid of FB, it was mostly just the habit of having something to look at that makes it difficult to give up. There have been dozens of times already today that I “needed” my phone for something and realized it’s off limits. Group texting my roommates, taking a picture of something interesting, listening to music in my car, getting a hold of someone to make short notice plans, giving myself something to look at during a break in my lecture while the rest of the entire class is on their phones too… But I also sort of love it! It’s allowed hours of uninterrupted work. It’s kept me from getting distracted writing this very post. It’s made me turn on the radio. It makes me walk upstairs to actually talk to my roommates instead of texting them from my room (what– don’t act like you’ve never done that). And to look around during class or talk to someone next to me instead of seeing what I’ve missed on my Instagram feed. There were moments today where I literally sat blankly, physically not knowing what to do with myself without my phone. The thought crossed my mind that from now on, I’m going to start bringing a book around with me, which, I guess is the entire point of this whole shabangity post.
This all may sound a bit hypocritical due to the fact that the only reason you are even here right now, reading my thoughts is through the power of technology, but I don’t think it has to be so black and white– so all or nothing. My thoughts in this post are not to demonize or condemn the use of technology, the conveniences, and, at the very least, fun that if affords, but to pose a challenge for myself in the motives and boundaries regarding my usage– to question my behavior when technology isn’t in the palm of my hand. Even last night as Frances and I made dinner, we talked about just how many crazy awesome things we had done in just the past two hours thanks to our phones and computers. We had found the recipe for our dinner, taken pictures, sent videos, skyped with someone states away like they were in the same room, looked up ingredients, made measurement conversions– all wirelessly! And in seconds! I feel like freaking Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century!
But not on Tuesdays. Tuesdays are for powering down.
These points are neither new or completely without flaw, and who knows how long this will stick, but for right now, I am having a great time challenging myself to cutting down on the tech, picking up a book a little more often or even being able to devote a bit of time to this post. It’s an inconvenience. And that’s what I’m most excited about.
ps- email is where it’s at.