Ayden, NC – I'm slow to buy new gadgets because I wait for the bugs to be worked out, and for the price to come down.
But I'm also troubled by the thrall of tech=itry. It took me years to buy a cell phone because I was so annoyed at people mindlessly sharing inane details of their lives while waiting for lattes. Or the couples I encountered, each yammering away at unseen others who were themselves, no doubt, sharing space with people talking to others elsewhere.
The advent of the so-called "smart phone" has intensified the dissociation. Not only can you talk to someone elsewhere at any time, you can check scores, answer e-mails, update your Facebook page, get directions to the nearest coffee shop or buy tickets to London, where you can merrily text with people back home while St. Paul's and Big Ben glide by. You can be eternally absent everywhere you're present.
The Washington Post recently reported on this latest leap down the path to human extinction, providing the example of a father so mesmerized in an iPhone chess match he was unaware he'd flooded his bathroom with his toddler in the tub. It turns out the psychology behind this distraction is nothing more than our old and enduring friend, immediate gratification. If it's more exciting than anything else happening right now, get it!
Until now, human history has been about transferring memory from our brains to external sources. Plato fretted that writing would dull our capacity to remember, because we could unspool a scroll and find information instead of consulting our brains. Popular photography gave us parents so absorbed in recording junior's first step they don't actually witness it why trust the brain when you can hold memory in your hand? Or post it online?
But the smart phone has eliminated memory altogether. The data-rich present trumps all. We make no memories, internal or external. The notion of savoring the moment, to save it for a future in which we might want to contemplate past pleasures well, that's uh, wait a second, I'm getting a status update what was I saying?
Oh yeah, something about paying attention. What an attractive concept PAYING attention. Not merely indulging the present, but heeding it. Squirreling away some parts of it in the old cranial database. For many, though, being alone with the mind is horror. Gotta chat. Gotta check. Gotta play.
Oh, I'll get a smart phone eventually. And it will be useful. But like I do with my cellphone, I'll power it up when I need it. And pay attention the rest of the time.