Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Smart" Tools & Back-Up Plans

It is no secret that I have a love/hate relationship with technology.  Mostly, I love it when it's working for me, and hate it when it's not.  It seems that everything that's supposedly "smart" or loaded up with a gazillion gigabytes, anything that has multiple "apps," or is marketed as a convenient way to network, a time-saver, a multi-functional tool of epic proportions that will revolutionize, organize and prioritize the most complex of professional and personal worlds, in the end just ends up being...well a disappointment that will be replaced by a better, faster, beyond 4G version of itself in six months or less. Maybe I'm cynical, or somewhat old-fashioned, or completely jaded by the fact that I'm more of a PC than Apple person, and therefore programmed to believe that eventually no matter how slick the packaging and how cool the tool, my warranty is going to expire.  

And yet, despite the inevitable disappointments, glitches and short-circuiting I know will ensue, I'm first in line when my cell phone contract is up for a new phone purchase, I can't log more than a 5K without being plugged into my iPod (the only Apple product I own), and I'm hard-pressed to remember friendships (not to mention birthdays) pre-Facebook.  It is technology that allows me to have a small but invested audience for my written ramblings (thank you loyal blog readers).  It is technology that gives us cute new terms and ways to connect in succinct and simple ways -- just Tweet or text it.  It is technology that allows me to toggle between magazines, newspapers and ebooks with a tap of my finger and it is technology that allows me to carry an entire library of music, books, and film in my purse without putting even the slightest strain on my shoulder.  And perhaps my personal favorite -- it is technology that allows me to send a shower gift that shows I care without ever having to set foot in a "Babies R' Us" or "Bed, Bath and Beyond" again.  Ever.  Click to purchase, click to gift wrap, click to ship and send.  No traffic, no check-out lines, no questionable customer service.  Some of my best gifts have been purchased under deadline at 2 a.m. while wearing pajamas and fuzzy slippers.

But I'm learning that the seductive lure of technological gadgetry is a dangerous one.  Like the quest for the perfect pair of shoes (trust me, no matter how cute or expensive the pump, they're still going to leave blisters after walking a certain number of city blocks) our tech-driven culture promises us efficiency, function and flair  but our devices lack the commitment to meet our long term needs.  It's a lot like dating in your 20's.  Everything looks so good and feels so perfect until about date three when flaws begin to surface, conversations begin to short out and the battery life is on a slow, steady drain, until eventually...the charge is completely gone.  Time for a new battery, an upgrade, or a completely new model.

Moral of the story?  Buy the cute shoes, but wear them when you know you're going to be sitting for a leisurely dinner or a night out at the theater.  Date a few people for superficial reasons so you recognize your soulmate and life partner when he (or she) comes along.  And, use the tools of technology that are at your fingertips, but don't rely on them to be there for you.  Have a back up plan.  Preferably one that involves paper and ink and doesn't require batteries or an outlet.  

I continue to learn these lessons.  I'm guilty of wearing impractical shoes on occasion and of setting up friends with the best of intentions but that result in brief courtships that ultimately fizzle or perhaps never even come to fruition in the first place.  And no matter how many times I tell myself not to get too close to the latest gadget or tool, I still end up trusting it just a little too much, and being burned by it in the end.  Just this week my "smart" phone dropped three phone calls, my emails were delayed in cyber space, stuck between who-knows-where and my inbox, somehow I lost a document in the "cloud" where things are never supposed to be lost, my sweat or my ambitious pace shorted out my iPod leaving me song-less for the last mile of a five mile tempo run, and worst of all, my precious little Nook (ereader) is acting up.  I haven't gotten a newspaper delivered on time in two weeks without having to manually reboot and re-register the device.  

Sometimes I miss the thudding sound on our driveway in the pre-dawn hours that formerly signaled my newspaper was safely waiting for me to rescue it from the cold, concrete driveway.  Sometimes I miss the glossy feel of the advertisement inserts and the gray residue the newsprint left on my fingertips.  I didn't always read the paper daily, but each day's news was reliably there for me if I needed it.  No worrying or waiting for it to download.  No re-booting or forced shut-downs.  No dropped or finnicky wi-fi signal.  No sporadic sound bytes or tickers running across a screen, but full-length articles and the sound of crisp pages turning.  No clicking required.  

That's the thing about temperamental technology.  When it's on the fritz it reminds us that there was a time when we did without.  When we lost ourselves in books despite not being able to adjust the font size.  When we called friends and family on landlines instead of texting them abbreviated greetings.  When we hand-wrote birthday cards and invitations, licked and sealed envelopes, affixed stamps and snail mailed them to recipients, instead of relying on Evites to collect our RSVP's for us. 

I believe technology is neither good nor evil it just is -- it's a part of our world and it can lead to wonderful (and frustrating) things depending on the circumstances.  But I will never again give tools credit for being "smart."  Our devices and gadgets are not smart.  The human ingenuity that created them is...and so is having a back-up plan -- knowing when to unplug the device, call tech support, and pick up a book.  The kind with real paper pages and a hardcover or paperback jacket.


  1. Hmm. Lots to think about. I think you're right in that technology just IS - not good, not evil. It has its own glitches and annoyances just like all things do. It's amazing to me that "kids today" know nothing other than cell phones, netbooks, iPods, etc. So for them especially, technology just is what it is.

    I have a love/hate feeling for e-readers as well. I love that it can hold so much and be so light to carry, but it's not the same as a book - turning down the corner of a page, underlining something, writing a note to the person receiving it as a gift...just not the same.

  2. You give me perspective. I will neve rgive up "real" books!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog, even though I kept thinking, "If Jessica had just created a podcast instead, I could be doing some chores around the house while listening to this blog."

    Just kidding! You reminded me that some of the technology I own is like the pair of shoes I never wear. Other devices are like my orthotics that I slip in to every tennis shoe I own so I never have to suffer the painful effects of my flat feet.