The tech talk

I don’t reject the latest versions of computers, phones or software. I just wait until they’re affordable, because something newer, smaller, faster and cooler always comes along.

Yes, I’ll admit it, I have been accused of being a Luddite before, but any real resistance I display toward new technology has more to do with the fact that I am cheap and less to do with my fear or disdain for moving into the future.

I don’t reject the latest versions of computers, phones or software. I just wait until they’re affordable, because something newer, smaller, faster and cooler always comes along. These are often things that are undeniably awesome, but I know that I will be OK without them—for the time being, that is.

This often leaves me lagging in matters of culture and efficiency. Sometimes I’m months or years behind most of the people I know, but I’d like to think that this allows me some additional perspective. I get insight into the actual value and practical applications of, say, being able to ask your car’s dashboard questions or a phone that not only shows you movies but also knows when you are looking sideways at something and adjusts itself accordingly.

I can remember a time when I had no cell phone, and it never even occurred to me to be anxious or indignant about the fact. I remember when no one had mobile phones except for maybe James Bond, and somehow everyone managed.

Today I can count the number of people, excluding infants and toddlers, that I know who do not own mobile phones on one hand, and I don’t even need to use my thumb. Of those four people, only one is under 50, and I’m pretty sure that he’s about to cave soon. One of those remaining three, my boyfriend’s father, Peter, brought something to my attention recently.

“Why is everyone constantly talking about AT&T all of a sudden?” he asked us, and although he may have been grumbling just a little bit, he was genuinely puzzled. Why on earth should a phone company suddenly become a major factor of social interaction?

I’ve got to admit it, Peter is right. I thought about what he said, and at first I was merely amused without seeing the deeper implications of his observation, but I have come to realize that we’re experiencing an epidemic of pointless communication. This could be more serious than any of us are willing to admit.

Everywhere you go people are talking about their phones, phone plans, Internet connections, Facebook accounts—or MySpace, for the traditionalists—or some other device intended to facilitate communication.

The first alarming incident I experienced was in late November. I was having dinner out, sitting near a large group that seemed to be a gathering of family members that didn’t see each other often. For about an hour, most of these people discussed the relative merits of getting an iPhone versus a Blackberry, and which plan would be best to use with which phone for various reasons. That’s all they talked about, although a few of them sat silent, listening or eating or wishing they were somewhere else.

My first thought was: “My God, you people are boring. I wish I could stop myself from eavesdropping on you.” My second thought was: “When you actually get your phones, I hope you think of something else to talk about on them.”

It’s easy to point a finger, to judge others. The next time it happened, it wasn’t them—it was us. At a small social gathering, seeing friends for the first time in quite awhile, the conversation quickly turned to the phones, wireless connectivity, the stuff everyone currently owned, the stuff they were going to get. “When did we get so boring?”

When this happened, I wondered to myself, wishing that I still smoked so I would have a reason to sit outside alone, which was an excellent alternative to the conversation that was showing no sign of letting up. Several people sat staring at their phones, looking up information about something to do with a new kind of faster Internet.

Once you’ve got something on your mind, it’s easy to become hyper-aware of it. Now, everywhere I go, I am conscious of the fact that communication is quickly becoming more and more about the methods of communication.

Sometimes I feel like a collectable. My number is added to phones, sometimes with an accompanying photograph, by people who have neither reason nor intention to actually call me.

Online I am sent friend requests and virtual hugs and snowballs and cocktails by people who have little or nothing to say to me when we find ourselves occupying the same actual space and time.

You might ask: So what?

When the thing that is meant to be a method by which we converse with each other becomes what we are conversing about, it goes beyond being redundant. We might as well throw away our Blackberries and iPhones, and hit each other with them. It is cheaper and ultimately equally effective in creating a meaningful exchange.

Better yet, we could embrace the positive aspects of technology without letting these things become the most important part of our entire existence.

Let’s be better friends in real life than we are on Facebook. Throw a real snowball at me. Let’s buy each other real drinks and sit and talk for hours about anything. But, please, let’s not talk about your phone for too long, OK?