Too Much Technology?

09 July 2017

Short attention spans seem to prevail with me at times. The constant desire to see what’s new every few minutes becomes aggravating and I seem to be unable to break that cycle. What I am talking about is probably something many people experience each day with all of our technology and mobile devices connected to the Internet and social media.

When I’m at home sometimes I get bored and find myself going from the iPad to the iPhone to flipping channels on my DirecTV Now streaming service on the Apple TV to checking out Netflix, iTunes TV Shows and iTunes Movies as well as other TV network apps like HBO Go, or Start and AMC. There is so much content available at the tap of a screen or the click of a button that its overwhelming. It reminds me of a Jerry Seinfeld joke which I’ll try to paraphrase. “Men don’t want to see what’s on TV. Men want to see what else is on TV.” Which is why we constantly change channels all the time and never really stay on one for any length of time.

Add to that social media like Facebook, Twitter, various Internet discussion forums and blog sites, like this one, and there is even more to be digitally distracted by.

While I’m flipping channels on TV, I’m either playing a game on my iPad, checking Facebook and Twitter to see what is going on. It’s on an endless loop it seems and refreshing the feeds every few minutes doesn’t usually provide anything satisfying for the time given to seeing what may be interesting or not. But the desire to constantly be looking for something new, something interesting is always there.

Then there is the cell phone, at its most basic function; mobile communication. This is one of the things that bugs me the most. It’s the constant anticipation of the phone ringing and the social obligation to answer it. It’s common today that everyone has a mobile phone and because of the Internet and all the other things they can do, we all have them within arms reach for every waking moment - and even while sleeping. When someone calls you there is an unwritten rule, an obligation, to answer it because the calling party *knows* that you have your phone nearby. If you choose not to answer it because you don’t feel like talking, for any reason, the other person is going to be upset and wonder why you didn’t take their call. You knew it was them because of caller ID. That then adds a whole new social aspect to interacting with people. There is almost no way to disconnect, and if you find a way to do so, there can be negative consequences for doing so.

30 years ago as a young kid we didn’t have all this technological stuff to entertain us, keep us ultra connected and consume our time. When I grew up we had a telephone. It was this thing attached to a curly cord that was attached to a wall with another cord on it. Depending on how long that curly cord was, was only as far as you could take that phone. There were no cell phones to keep with us no matter where we’re at. We didn’t even have an answering machine. This was another device that hooked up to the phone with a cord that would answer a call for you and play a pre-recorded message to the caller to which would end with a beep. The beep indicated that the caller could now leave a message for you to listen to when you came home. But we didn’t have that. So if someone called and no one was there to answer it, the phone would ring for as long as they stayed on the line until they hung up. They’d just have to try again at a later time hoping we were home. Back then, if you were home and didn’t want to talk, you could just let it ring or unplug it. There was no reasonable expectation by anyone to assume you were dodging the phone when you didn’t answer it. It was very reasonable to believe you weren’t home, you were outside, you were mowing the lawn or doing any number of things.

We didn’t have computers and we certainly didn’t have the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, et al. If you wanted to communicate, you either used the phone, wrote a letter and mailed it, or you met up face to face somewhere.

Television for us consisted of over the air signals and only whatever your antenna could pick up from whichever direction you had it pointed toward. So only a handful of channels were available and if you wanted to change the channel, you had to get up and walk to the TV set and turn a knob.

Before my teenage years when the Nintendo came along and satellite TV was installed taking more of my time, my time was spent outdoors with friends or exploring on my own. Riding bicycles around and down to the corner store was a common thing. Swimming in ponds at friends houses was normal in the summer. Building snow forts in the winter, when it used to snow a lot before climate change started becoming noticeable.

Times were simpler then and I do miss it from time to time. As convenient as our technology has made our lives, it also has made my attention span very short. If I could make things to where I didn’t need a cell phone and could go back to a house phone, with no answering machine, I’d totally do it.

These days, in the past year or so, I’ve been fairly successful in limiting my screen time at home from the computers. I have a desktop PC and a laptop and they tucked away in my hobby room and I only turn them on during the weekends and sometimes I don’t at all or only for a short while in the morning. But having the iPad and iPhone at hand still keeps me connected and a digital screen in front of my face and I’m trying find a way to limit that too but the desire to see what’s new is strong still.

The times where I don’t have a screen jammed in my face are few. When I’m sleeping for sure. That’s my favorite time of all! Then when I’m at the gym is another time, although the iPhone is right there. But I’m not checking social media then, I’m exercising and I stay focus on that. The rest of the time there is a screen of some sort in front of me. At work, it’s a PC all day in front of me the whole time. That comes with the job being a tech guy in a technical job. When I’m home, if I happen to not be using my iDevices, there is still the good ol’ TV that’s possibly turned on. Surprisingly though, I don’t usually turn on the TV not the weekends until later in the day which make me feel good when I think of that.

Lastly, when I’m driving the only thing in front of my face is the roadway. I refuse to drive distracted; it’s far too dangerous and I see people every single day doing this. One nice thing about my car and having an iPhone is Apple’s CarPlay. When my phone is connected to the car, the iPhone takes over the infotainment center and shows very limited options including Messages, Maps, Music and Phone. Messages can be managed by voice control and text to speech so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel. The same goes for the phone and the other apps. Other notifications from the phone such as email are muted and you don’t know they’re popping in at all until you stop and look at the phone. The forthcoming iOS 11 from Apple this year will have a new feature called “Do not disturb while driving” and I’m looking forward to that very much. It will suppress calls and messages while you’re driving and will send messages back on your behalf letting the person who texted you know that you’re driving and will see their message and get back to you when you’re done driving. The feature will turn on when it connects to a car, or if the car has no connection to an iPhone, it will enable itself when it senses you’re moving like in a car. If you’re a passenger, you can override the setting to use the phone normally.

With all of that said, I do miss the old days of less technology and interconnected communication with social media. I’m not saying that this stuff is not without its benefits because its not. I just wonder if its another one of those things that due to our obsessive human nature that we sometimes overuse it. What do you think?

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