I remember the year I got a cell phone. It was 1997.
I remember it because not only was I enormously pregnant (we don't forget those times...ever), but also because the only reason I had one was because my husband worked for the phone company. Otherwise I would have been too embarrassed to carry one! Hitherto the time that I became one of them, I was known to have said, Who are these obnoxious people who think they are so important that they need to have a phone in their car? There is a phone anywhere you could ever need one for 25 cents, for crying out loud!
I would never have been caught dead talking on one in public! People who used cell phones in public (worst of all, at restaurants!) were just drawing attention to the fact that they had one. And why did they have to be so loud, anyway?
About that time we got internet.
I had two little kids and a grumpy attitude toward a tech-loving husband. Like we have time to "check email" or worse, "surf," when there are diapers needing to be changed, baths to be given, and bedtime stories waiting to be told! Hrrrmphhhh.
But soon phones became more common, and internet connections became faster so "checking email" didn't take all evening like it used to. But now we had time to check out a few cool new ideas like ebay and online checkout, and there was this new thing called a weblog. Suddenly being an "internet user" had lost its stigma.
I don't suppose we are going back to pre-internet and/or wireless technology any time soon, but I do like to remind myself of how intrusive (frivolous, annoying, etc) the general public felt about both of these when they first came out.
They interrupted relentlessly. In my mind, anyway, they took the person - that one sitting right here with me - off to someplace else, mentally, if not physically. They took time out of the day and left less for the work at hand.
We take these things for granted now, a small price to pay for the convenience that technology offers. No, I would not like to go back to writing checks and licking stamps to pay bills, or to have to walk to the nearest service station to call for a tow truck.
But I do wonder sometimes if we are like the proverbial frog who doesn't notice that he is being boiled for supper because the water in the stew pot is being heated - very slowly - all around him. We don't realize we've been robbed of something - we don't even know what - because the cultural shift has been so gradual. We've passively accepted the changes as "the way it is."
Things like hobbies, shopping, and talking with friends used to be confined to evenings, weekends or free days. Now we can do these things with a touch of a button "in between" everything else, "just for a minute." But is that "everything else" still getting done?
Last night I met with six of Allie's-15 friends, and every one of them had a phone at the table. It was amusing and sad at the same time to hear all the beeping and buzzing that went on while we tried to have a conversation (more on that another time!!). I guess they haven't heard my soapbox on cell phone usage. Yet.
What I find in my own life, is that constant distraction and continuous partial attention - not just relative to technology, mind you, but also the busy-ness that our culture defines as "normal" - muddles my sense of priorities. It puts anything and everything on a level playing field.
Is that flashing red light on my phone as important as the child who needs my attention? Does receiving an email about a worthy cause merit stopping what I've set out to do today in order to reply? Is going to yet another meeting at church as important as visiting my mother? Is posting to my blog as important as making sure my children eat a healthy lunch?
I guess what I'm realizing is my own willingness to take long detours with the "urgent" at the expense of the "important." Technology is only one part of that, but it is perhaps the one thing that is most in our power to control.
I'm challenged to evaluate my priorities - again. It's a constant thing, I'm finding. Turning off my email alerts was a good start, but I think I've been lax - passive - about other ways I've let our culture constantly distract or take partial attention away from the important things, like sticking to tasks and focusing on those who mean the most to me.
Any other thoughts on this?