I didn’t even see the guy looking at me, probably because my head was gazing down into my iPhone. We were in Concord, NH, last Thursday, having just watched Food, Inc. at a local indy theater, and I was pulling up the nearest geocaches (our new favorite sport) for my kids to peruse, hoping to set off on a hunt before heading back to our connectionless retreat on a hilltop in the woods.
“You’re a technoslave!” the guy yelled across the square, and I looked up to see him hurrying along with an angsty expression on his face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my kids wheel around, too, Tucker stopping dead in his tracks. “It’ll ruin your life! Throw it away! Just throw it away!”
And he was gone, zipping around a hedgerow and then disappearing into a bookstore as my wife turned to me smiling and my kids gaped open-mouthed, struggled to figure out how to react. I, of course, just shrugged it off, saying something brilliant like “Yeah, whatever” while brushing him and the idea away with a half sweep of my hand, the one not holding the iPhone, of course.
But as we picked through a tick-infested field adjacent to a Dunkin Donuts parking lot to find our third ammo can cache of the day, the “technoslave” charge turned in my head. Am I a slave to all of this? And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing? This all on the heels of spending a week with bandwidth (I just typed “badwidth” which would have been appropriate) that maybe reached half a bar on my Verizon stick when the wind was blowing in the right direction and I held my computer at exactly 32 degrees. (Think aluminum foil and tv antenna if you’re old enough.) I think I Tweeted like three times, maybe, and even those were wistful dispatches from nature that felt almost strange in the making. (As in “Why am I Tweeting how nice it is to watch this thunderstorm roll in without all the usual distractions?” Hmmm…) I tried to answer a few e-mails, but I think I just managed to make people angry. And I did get to scan the front page of the New York Times site after the 30-minute or so download most mornings. But that was about it.
Except, of course, for my iPhone, which served us well as we crawled through the claustrophobia-inducing caves and caverns at Lost River Gorge, snapping decent pictures of our trek (though not of the point where I got stuck), or while being strafed by mosquitoes while watching the new Harry Potter movie at the local drive-in letting me sneak an update on the Cubs game. And, when we started finding those caches. In fact, that may have been the highlight of the trip in some ways, the “doing something fun out in nature with the family” aspect of going around trying to find these little hidden treasures while avoiding the eyes of curious “Muggle” onlookers, reading the logs of people who had found them before us and feeling this weird sense of connection to a community of people online AND in real space that we had little sense of before. Facilitated solely by technology.
So, yeah, in many ways, I’m a slave to all of this. And I’m ok with that. I like being reminded how good it is to get away from the network from time to time; the world doesn’t end when the connection runs out. (Gasp!) But the connection is just a part of me now that at times may lead to distraction and a sense of overwhelmedness but on balance, adds a richness to my life that that angsty guy doesn’t get and probably never will.
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