I sit here in Corporate Coffee Shop with a friend. My friend and I aren't seeing eye to eye at the moment. We look at each other across the table warily. I don't trust her, and I can't figure out exactly what she's feeling. There is still a mutual need between us that keeps us tied to each other, but our relationship has been a little rocky lately. Nameless tells me that she is trying to come between us. He might be right. (Though I could and have said the same for some of Nameless' friends as well.)
I've named my friend Miss Marple. Literally. I went in and programmed the name. My friend is my Samsung Galaxy III smartphone. I just now picked it up and checked a website. In my car outside of the coffee shop I checked all of my notifications for Facebook before I turned the engine off. Is this healthy? Nameless accuses me of being addicted to it. Is he right?
When I first got the new phone my neck started aching from looking down at it. It was a new toy and I was looking at it constantly. I played the games and got bored with them. I downloaded the Nook app for it, so that I could read anytime, anywhere. I love having a camera and phone in one device. (These cameras are incredible.) It has my calendar; it has my address book, the internet, maps. It is superbly useful.
One of Nameless' friends – the one I took issue with earlier – is the TV. He has it on at all times. It's background noise for him, which I can understand. I generally keep music going for the same reason. However, I find it difficult to be in the presence of a television (one that's turned on) and not stare at it. It sucks my brain out. Even commercials. Especially commercials, I'd say. Those people know what they're doing when they make them. Somebody can be talking to me and I hear nothing of what they're saying because I'm looking at the TV and my mind his held hostage. I don't turn my TV on at home; I don't like the way it makes me feel. It's too much background noise; too much going on. It raises the anxiety level and I can't pay attention, even if it's in the other room. Nameless will have a dinner party and if the TV is on in the next room I find it difficult to pay attention to what people are saying.
I've noticed something about me and my phone. It involves the coffee shop, which is why I came here to write this. I used to sit here and read. I'd get to know some of the people who come in regularly and chat a little. I eventually bought a Nook eReader. That was a step up technologically. (There's not much more room in my apartment for books.) Lately, however, I've noticed that I don't read as much as I used to. Not just in the coffee shop; I just don't read as much. It started when I got my smartphone. The other day I left my phone at home when I went to work. On my way home I stopped at Corporate Coffee Shop because I had my Nook with me. I didn't read, though. I stared at people and not in an interesting way. My hands felt like they wanted to reach for something. I'd read half a page and I'd look up. I couldn't get lost in my book like I used to. What has happened to me? Is my smartphone as big a brain-sucker as the television? Or bigger, even? I mean, it doesn't even have to be making a noise or showing anything and it has half of my attention. The smartphone doesn't have the moving images of the TV shows or the conversations and sound effects of commercials. (It would if I'd let it, but I never do.) But still, it sucks me in. I might go to it to look up a word, and I notice that I have an email and facebook notifications. Before I know it, I've put the phone back down 10 minutes later and I never looked up the word I like I started to. If I pick up the phone again, it will all start all over again. I might never learn what that word means.
There is a difference between my smartphone and a TV, though. The smartphone is useful. I need a phone. I like having the calendar and camera on my phone. I could downgrade, but the calendar wouldn't sync with my Google calendar; the camera wouldn't be as good. I wouldn't be able to use it as well to listen to music, which I'm doing right now because the noise here is getting a little out of hand.
Maybe I can retrain myself. Maybe with effort I can learn to not look at Facebook so frequently, and other social media outlets. It would take more than that. I would have to learn to not WANT to look at those things. I would have to learn how to HAVE a smartphone and not feel the NEED to LOOK at it. This runs counter to everything that smartphone programmers are working toward. Of course they want us addicted to our devices. of course they want us to always be looking at it. I would have to be fighting against what Very Intelligent People are doing to get my attention. I would do this because it is a very useful divice to have. It is phone, calendar, texting, camera, internet, social media. All of those things are good. All of those things are healthy. They are fine, taken in moderation. But, can I do it? I have counted 6 times that I've picked up the phone since I started writing this. And writing it has been agony. Words are not flowing; Ideas are not taking shape as easily. The smartphone knows what I'm doing and it's fighting me.
I think I can do it, though. I miss the eArnie that read on rainy days. I miss the me that had a book and read it in the coffee shop without half of my brain wondering what other people were doing in Facebook, etc. Rather than give up the things that are good about it; I will try to take back control of my device. I will keep it in the pocket of my messenger bag. It will take a while. In less than a year my brain is acutely atuned to seeing tiny cues as notifications from Facebook, email and other social things. But, there is too much good to be had with this device to give it up for the sake of some of the vendors that I've invited into it. Dark Side vs. Light Side.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Written in 1953. How accurate it was.
Today I got lost in the supermarket. I don't know why I go there when I'm feeling dizzy, except that I needed groceries and things, it was morning and it makes perfect sense to get up, drink coffee, have breakfast and then go to the store. I should know that being dizzy makes it more difficult. But, if I go home, then I'll just go back to sleep for hours and that won't do anybody any good.
While I was at the store I saw a man, an older man... a very older man... he was looking at light bulbs. My heart went out to him; I don't understand light bulbs any more, either. I sometimes feel like I'm not a part of my own world any more, then something in my mind taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that I never really was part of it to begin with. It's just that sometimes I do a better job of impersonating a normal person than other times.
On NPR the other day I heard a discussion about light bulbs. Frankly, I'm frightened. I can't keep up. Just when I've resigned myself to using florescent bulbs, I'm now being told that I'm a bad, ignorant person if I do. Granted, I did read that they contained mercury and I hated that the world was turning to them, but I'm not the one making the calls here. I'm just trying to keep up. LED lights seem to be the new way to go. Or was it halogen? Maybe halogen was two generations ago...
Not too long ago I took my father shopping. His vision has failed – irreparably it seems – and he needs a ride to the store, to the doctor, etc. He can see a little, especially if the light is bright. But, it's a challenge for somebody who lived for 75 years with relatively good vision to adjust to this limitation. We went around the store; he knew the layout fairly well and was able to get most of what he wanted with minimal assistance. He didn't ask me to grab anything for him; he just took his time looking at things right up next to his face until he found the ones he wanted. My father lives with my sister; he has a little room with a bathroom, small refrigerator, coffee pot and other things so that he can have his own space. Even in the main kitchen he knows his way around. He can cook if he wants to, or make a sandwich. When he stayed with my brother for a week his handicap was rather accentuated. He doesn't know that kitchen or house; so he's not as self-sufficient.
So, back at the supermarket and me passing by in a dizzy spell, glancing at an older man looking – with his face very close to the products – at light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs have been around since around 1870. Imagine going through the depression, battling for work, for money, for food. Having been through the war and ration stamps. Having raised a family, made a home, your kids grew up to raise families of their own, giving you grandkids and then the grandkids growing up and beginning lives and families of their own. All through this, the most you've though about light bulbs is either not having light in the depression, or screwing a bulb in. And for over seventy years your most common concern with light bulbs is turning the light switch on. Then, in your retirement age when you're either becoming more dependent on the younger generation, or that dependence looms over you, suddenly you don't know squat about something you've taken for granted all your life – not only something you've taken for granted, but something of fundamental importance that you've taken for granted. And, not only do you not know squat, the rules are changing almost as soon as they are written.
I'll admit that I don't keep up, but the last time I checked incandescent bulbs were still on the shelf at the store. But, what frightens me is ending up like that man I saw, or like my father. I don't have children to come take me to the store. I never got around to children. (I can hear my Catholic friends chiding me about the importance of family, and all I can say to them is that if I HAD had children, they would have hated me and our combined incomes wouldn't be enough to cover the cost of the psychologist bills for them and for me. I don't think I was ever father material. Uncle, maybe. Father, no.) So what's going to happen when I'm old and unable to walk very far or see very far? And then suddenly somebody changes all the rules on me. I will be like my father in my younger brother's house. I won't know my way around and I don't know that I will have it in me to keep up. Hell, I haven't kept up this far. I go to the store and people look at me like I'm demented as it is. What am I going to do when I actually AM demented? If something as simple and fundamental as turning on a light switch isn't safe from the winds of change, how will I fare when I'm too frail to fight?