Technology invades every aspect of our lives. Computers, tablets, smartphones. Email, Pinterest, Twitter. Instagram, smoke detectors, Facebook, um, uh, pace…makers. All of these things are constantly vying for our attention, begging us to ignore those around us and get drawn into trivial tasks like friending, starring, poking, destroying evidence, pinning, and regulating adequate heart rate.
Well, no longer will they vie for my attention. Today, the great experiment begins. Yes, as of today I am going cold turkey, cutting myself off. Oh, you’ve seen those holier-than-thou posers who make a big deal about leaving Twitter or who drop off the Internet so they can write a series of articles about the experience. But this is different.
Because for an entire year I am going to give up all direct personal contact in order to fully connect with my devices. That’s right, I have sealed myself in my home office with my devices and several fire extinguishers and will not come out for a year. The office has its own bathroom and my wife has agreed to pass me food and UPS packages.
Or I think she agreed. She just sort of laughed.
This is a bold step, I know, but it’s time for a change. Why am I cutting off direct human contact? A better question is: Why didn’t I think of this sooner? I can no longer reasonably manage the conflicting priorities of paying attention to the people who I know and love and have accidentally burned the eyebrows off of in the real world and satisfying my interest in social media, Web surfing, and gaming. Something had to give. And, in the end, I had to go with my heart when it said, “Lose the dead weight.”
Your devices are the only things you interact with that don’t expect anything from you. Oh, sure, they may interrupt you and nag you, but there are no recriminations if you ignore them. Only people give you a hard time. Don’t download all those app updates and your phone doesn’t care. But forget to pick up a kid at summer camp and you’ll hear about it for weeks. Set the cat on fire by staring at it too long and you’ll never hear the end of it.
Can we all just stop pretending that what’s happening on our computers, phones, and tablets is not categorically more compelling and objectively more important than what is happening before us? And why not? Your electronic experience is curated by professionals. Your life is not.
Particularly yours. I mean, wow.
Let’s face it, you’d rather be posting a heavily filtered picture of your kid playing soccer to Instagram than watching your kid actually play soccer. Posting a picture to Instagram turns a mundane event like watching Skyler, Mercedes, or Kennedy stumble around in the freezing rain for an hour into an opportunity for us to get validation. We’ve taken that annoying event and turned it into something meaningful. Now the kid’s soccer match is about the parent. There’s value in that, isn’t there? (Asking for a friend.)
Also, it’s important to point out that devices provide much-needed and sometimes even life-saving distractions. It used to be that I couldn’t stand in the line at the DMV without igniting someone. Now I can read a book, watch a movie, post to my blog, “connect” with others on social media, unpost to my blog when I realize my post was entirely wrong, repost to my blog after… Um, post to my blog. I can post to my blog, play whatever social word game is currently popular, update my Facebook status to “playing whatever social word game is currently popular”, change my relationship status to “Has anyone seen my wi—”
Wait, what was I in line for again?
You know what? I can look that up on my phone! That’s how much value a mobile computing platform provides.
Let’s see here… It says “Event”. Huh. I think that’s an iCloud bug.
I can appreciate that some people find all these distractions, well, distracting. But for me they serve an important purpose. Not only do they entertain, inform, enlighten and generally fill an empty void that’s been in my life since childhood, but they keep me from overly focusing on any one thing and causing it to burst into flames. I am, you see, a firestarter. By which I mean that I can start fires with my mind. Any moment where my brain is not distracted by a barrage of smartphone notifications, text messages, or new Tumblr posts and FOOM! There goes a planter at the DMV. BLAM! There goes a driver’s ed vehicle.
The DMV. That’s what I was standing in line for.
But even apart from the firestarting and apart from being The Lathe of Heaven (I can also alter reality with my thoughts, often to disastrous effect — sorry, fans of Firefly!), technology helps me out when no one else can. Or, let’s face it, is willing to. Because, while this may come as a surprise, I have trouble in my interpersonal relationships. Yes, partly because of all the fires.
Despite this trouble, I had anticipated pushback when I approached my family to announce I was leaving them for a year to spend more time with my MacBook Air, my iPhone and my Nexus 10 haha just kidding, my iPad, what kind of loser do you think I am?
Turns out they were relieved! Oh, not so much to be rid of me (although, yes, that firestarter thing), but because they want to spend more time with their gadgets. My belief is that this whole experiment will bring us closer together by allowing us to recognize that we want to be further apart. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Not-togetherness?
Wait. No. I just reread this and, no, that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about being happy. I think. I kind of lost track because I’m playing about 68 Letterpress games right now. But have you ever been happy when a smiling child ran up to you while you were playing Plants vs. Zombies to show you how he tied his shoe, which turns out to be a series of 18 knots you’ll never get open and will have to cut to get the shoe off and, jeez, why does she keep buying these things at Nordstrom when Payless sells perfectly nice shoes and, great, just great, now you lost the level? Of course not…
Ohhh, well, excuse me, Mr. Father of the Year.
Anyway, this is, ultimately, an experiment. I don’t intend to leave my family and friends permanently! Just long enough to be able to write about it. I’m sure that when this year is over we will have a joyful reunion, gathered around a fire in the living room (hopefully this time actually in the fireplace), perhaps all a little wiser for the experience.
And I’ll have a book deal.
Grant Snider started out drawing a daily cartoon for the University of Kansas student newspaper, which led to a weekly strip called “Delayed Karma” for the Kansas City Star. His comics and illustrations now appear in newspapers, magazines, and across the Internet. He is currently studying orthodontics at the University of Colorado-Denver. ↩