Deep inside me, is someone resistant to change. It’s not that I am not open to it at all, it’s just that if I see it, and get a premonition that I won’t like it, I don’t want to do it. Part of that has involved the world moving away from in-depth discussion to 40 character tweets and texts. Long gone are the luxurious 2,000 word e-mails in which I discussed everything from the moral wobbliness of having “animated mandrakes” in Harry Potter (“as soon as they start trying to move into each other’s pots, we’ll know they are mature and can cut them up!” … um, those are sentient plants, Madam Sprout, which I assume means they can feel pain, so you’re murdering them? – which could be an object lesson in of itself, on how if society accepts something as moral, the majority of people willfully ignore it or never think about it – do lobsters feel pain when being boiled alive?) to theological discussions.
Fortunately, I still know a handful of people, like myself, who want to have these long, in-depth conversations – who use “words, and lots of them” to express their thoughts. Either in person or in e-mail. In e-mail also gives the person responding time to ponder and give a thoughtful answer.
Part of this shift also happened when IMDb closed down their message boards. They never said why in a meaningful sense, citing “trolls” and it being too expensive to keep up, but that was another source of sorrow for me, to have a place where I could find thoughtful, intelligent discussion about movies ongoing 5 years after the film had come out. During The Tudors airing on Showtime, I was an active part of those boards with other amateur historians, and we delightedly told newbie “know nothings” all the ways the show was inaccurate, debated at length whether the ‘great Anne Boleyn’ was a sexually harassed woman who simply grew tired of it and capitulated or a schemer as the series portrayed her. I found thoughtful explorations of the symbolism in The Dark Knight movies on that board, the stuff that gives me life. I am all about ideas and discussions of them.
But now all of that has gone away. It’s up to me to write posts about it (to which, honestly, because the internet is no longer really about “give and take,” just “feed me,” no one responds, leaving half the conversation unanswered — which is deeply unfulfilling to me, like pouring two cups of coffee in a nice little cafe and your book discussion partner never shows up) and… finding others to have deep, thoughtful, and above all calm and willing to listen conversations online, which was once easy, is now harder. Now it is about being heard, rather than listening, and that is about who can scream the loudest. But everyone is screaming.
The older format of livejournal, where I emotionally thrived in its heyday because you could gather a group of souls around you and have social interaction on a daily and meaningful basis, has given way to tumblr, home of beautiful gifs but not much discussion. That is dying, because people are moving to Instagram, home of selfies. I never went in for Facebook, which is good, because people are leaving that in droves. And I can’t tell you how much I wish Twitter did not exist. I was far better off, as were authors, not knowing the general, knee-jerk tweet reactions of authors and celebrities. It has not made me like them more, and I figure the same would work for me. If I am going to be a fool, I’d rather do it in private with a family that laughs at me and tell me to get over myself.
I also hate being dependent on things. Last week, my iPhone died. Rather, it coughed weakly a few times and kept going, just without any way to access the internet or connect to the satellite to send messages. It’s an old phone, but in waiting days for a new one to arrive, I realized… I never knew I was an addict, but I am. It was painful, not being able to text anyone. Or check my e-mail on my phone. Or surf the internet while watching Netflix (yes, really). I felt like someone had stolen my dog. Like something was missing.
And I hated it.
But at the same time, I loved it. Nobody could text me. Everybody knew not to bother. I had to actually watch things rather than half-watch them while looking up random things on the internet. The idea of pulling the plug and going back to a “dumb phone” had a profound appeal, however unrealistic in the long term. It reminded me of the day I forgot my phone when out and about with my mother and it delighted her, because “You’re actually talking to me today.”
Oops. Am I really that self-absorbed?
So when I got my new phone, I connected it to the wifi at home so I can text (our signal is lousy) but I didn’t bother connecting it to the internet, logging in anywhere, or putting anything on it. The phone is just for calling and texting people. That’s it. And, if I get lost, accessing a digital map so I know where I’m going. Beyond that, I am breaking my iPhone addiction. Because I people-watch, and I’ve seen what it’s doing to our society. People used to talk in lines at stores. Now they scroll mindlessly through their phone. They used to watch where they were driving. Now they are texting one-handed (seriously, lady I saw doing this, 20 is too young to die, and nothing is that important it can’t wait 2 minutes until you get into the parking lot). They used to read magazines, but now their attention span has shortened. I have noticed how much more prone I am to not having concentration. Phone addiction, or rather addiction to constant stimulus, is re-wiring our brains.
Think about that for one hot minute. How I used to sit and watch all 6 hours of P&P captivated on the couch and now I am fiddling with my phone or half distracted. What kind of living is this?! How do I break out of it?
Not having a phone forced me to talk to people in the hair salon, rather than sit there absorbed in my own world, wondering why nobody was talking to me online, and reminded me of why I love people: we are weird, and interesting, and delightful, and funny, and eccentric. And despite my antsy desire to get home and check my email… nothing happened. Literally nothing. I had 3 junk e-mails and 2 messages in my inbox. No social media updates. It reminded me that despite what the last few years of “instant gratification” have taught me: almost anything can wait. Nothing is that important. If nothing happened in the 8 hours of my absence, then I wasted none of those 8 hours checking if anything was happening.
It taught me to put down my damn phone and go get a life.
I’m not quite ready to break my internet addiction in general, yet, but I figure this is a good first step. And… there’s always Lent for that. You know, if this year I want to do something actually hard.