I used to pride myself on the fact that I was ‘not’ a cliche or a statistic. As a teen I would avoid famous people if they happened to be somewhere I was going because I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘groupie’, drooling over someone just because they occasionally appeared on the little box in my lounge room and I’d roll my eyes at screaming teenage girls mobbing the music concerts, happy not to be so ‘superficial’ or ‘shallow’. Yes, I judged harshly, don’t judge me!
I wanted to be seen as mature, deep and unimpressed by fame, money or status. I was never into the latest fad or fashion (probably because I couldn’t afford to be) and was very modest and conservative (being shy and self conscious may have played a part but I’ll claim high moral ground for the purposes of this article). All in all I was not vain or materialistic and so thought I’d escaped the stereotypical western mindset of ‘more is better’ and the addiction to technology that seems to go hand in hand. I ‘thought’ I had remained unsuccomed (if that’s a word) to the pressure’s of society and refused to surrender my brain to the techno Gods known as Apple & Android, but an incident last week had me reassessing the situation.
It all began one Sunday morning. With hubby and the two year old away in another state, I was down to 4 kids in the house. Two of those kids had secured themselves sleepovers the night before, in a town half an hour away, which was conveniently the same town we attended church in. So one of them (let’s call him the 15-year-old) had agreed to meet us at church at 10am and the other (let’s call her the 13-year-old) was to be picked up by me on the way to church. Now the 13-year-old had sent the address and phone number to my mobile (which I always took with me when I left the house) but it occurred to me half way there, that I’d forgotten it on this rare occasion. It was still resting on the couch with my bottle of water (which I’d also forgotten) where I’d put them both in order to pick up the baby, the nappy bag and my handbag before leaving the house.
Upon said realization, I thought momentarily about turning the car around and driving ten minutes back to get my phone, but I was concerned about being late. Besides, my other 15-year-old son was sitting right next to me, head buried in his phone which we could obviously use to contact the 13-year-old to retrieve pick up details right? Wrong! We drove into town and became dauntingly aware that his last credit recharge was just that, credit and no data and he had not yet saved to his phone, his sister’s number, nor his brothers for that matter.
So off to the church car park we went, to wait for the 15-year-old (who had promised to meet us at church at 10am) and whom also had a phone with both credit and data. By this time we were 15 minutes late to pick up the 13-year-old and the humour of the situation was starting to wane. After sending the ‘no data’ 15-year-old into the building on a twin finding expedition which bore no results, we waited for another 5 minutes before frustration and panic started to make an appearance. It was then that the ‘no data’ 15-year-old realized he had his brothers last known location via Facebook’s ‘find a friend’, downloaded via the Wi-Fi at home the night before. A ray of hope pierced through my diminishing faith in the communication capabilities of modern technology and we set off for the location.
So began the stalking of the random house as we waited outside said location for a sign of the ‘unpunctual’ (not a word, I know) 15-year-old. The little map with my son’s short-legged avatar was not very detailed so it was very difficult to tell the exact house he was in, hence I was reluctant to go door-knocking and explaining the complicated situation to a dozen strange sleepy faces, probably judging me for ‘losing’ my two teenagers. So, we waited. We waited for 10 minutes with no luck, just curious looks from an elderly gentleman walking his dog past our car. The 9-month-old in the back was now starting to stir from his morning nap and the calm can-do attitude I’d forced myself to adopt was quickly sinking in a pool of anxiety. I had no idea if these houses had rear access points that exited onto back streets, alleyways or paths through parks, etc and if my ‘unpunctual’ 15-year-old had already slipped out the back and taken a short cut to church.
It was at this point that I marveled at how reliant I was on my mobile phone. I’d barely even glanced at the address my daughter had sent me before allowing her to go with people I’d never even met. I simply planned to look at it when I got to town, input it into my GPS and let the lady tell me where to go. Easy! It never even occurred to me that I might forget my phone and have no other way of contacting her. I couldn’t believe how much chaos could ensue from one forgetful moment, from leaving one little piece of technology at home. What could I do now?
“Ok” I said to the ‘no data’ 15-year-old “we need to find someone else with a phone and contact details”. We had friends at church with teenage sons who were friends with our kids on social media and so returned to the church in search of help. I waited in the car with the now grizzly 9-month-old while the ‘no data’ 15-year-old ran inside, returning a few minutes later with our friends 13-year-old in tow. Apparently he was connected with ‘our’ 13-year-old through SnapChat but he ‘low and behold’ also had no data and his 15-year-old brother who did have data was feeling unwell and was therefore at home in bed. The ‘unpunctual’ 15-year-old was still a no-show at this point. Soooooo, we all drove down the street and around the corner to their home where the ‘helpful’ 13-year-old was finally able to use his parents wi-fi to contact our ‘unlocatable’ (I know, I know, not a word) 13-year-old and obtain an address. We dropped the ‘helpful’ 13-year-old back at church and discovered the ‘unpunctual’ 15-year-old had finally turned up (lateness being his only excuse for his lateness) and all piled into the car to finally set a course for the now ‘locatable’ (please tell me that’s a word) 13-year-old’s location.
That’s the bare bones of the story anyhow. There are many more little details that made up the comedy of errors that was our Sunday morning but no-one has time to read the ‘novel’ that would be. We ended up missing church all together because by the time we picked up the 13-year-old, the service was half over and we needed to be home soon for visitors anyway. Ironically enough, we had actually been running on time that morning for the first time in a long time.
I’ve been very careful since then, not to leave the house without making sure I have my mobile phone, but more importantly I’ve had to take stock of how much dependency I place on it. I’ve been inspired to think about all those times over the last few years when I’ve been unable to remember someone’s name, even people I have known for months or when I’ve missed an appointment that I booked the day before and blamed it on ‘placenta brain’ or ‘baby brain or ‘getting old’. I’ve reflected back to before mobile phones were so ‘smart’ and were used simply to make phone calls and take really bad photo’s. In those days I never missed an appointment, even if I hadn’t written it down or signed up for an sms reminder. I could memorize phone numbers and directions, becoming familiar with new areas after driving through only a couple of times. Was it because I was younger then and between pregnancies or was it because I was exercising my brain and memory more often because I had to? Because there was nothing else to do the thinking for me?
I think it is the latter. Am I crazy to believe the advancement in technology is creating people who can’t think for themselves? Will we soon have a generation where the phones, computers, etc are smarter than we are? Sure, we have access to so much more information and knowledge now, but can we retain it without saving it to a digital hard drive? Can we problem solve, create & improvise without turning to Google, Pinterest & YouTube? Am I the first to come to this realization? I don’t think so, and will this realization force me to throw away my mobile phone, my laptop, my ipad (if I had one)? Probably not!
I admit, I love the convenience that mobile phones afford us and the way they make life easier. I remember only being able to do online banking on my laptop at home and wishing they would come up with a way to do it on the mobile so I could transfer money on the run, and hello ANZ GoMoney! I remember wishing they would combine mobiles with the GPS Navman because I couldn’t afford a Navman and I hated reading the street directory because I could never figure out where I was, due to really bad signage in my local town. I love having a calendar right there on my phone, even though I forget to look at it most of the time. I love having everything in the one spot and not spread across a thousand different platforms but I hate how chaotic life suddenly gets when that spot goes missing or gets misplaced or broken etc. I hate how my life is wrapped up in something that’s not even real. Because everything is condensed into that one thing, I’m constantly holding it, like it’s an extension of who I am. I touch my phone more than I talk to my friends, more than I hug my kids, more than I spend time with my spouse, more than I sleep, think or pray.
These realizations may not make me ditch the phone in favour of a more primal way of life but they do make me more aware of the time I spend on my phone, or the ways in which I use it. Instead of reaching for my phone now, I’m sometimes reaching for the paper and pen instead or practicing memorizing numbers, names and addresses. I don’t want to be senile before I’m 40 so I’m exercising and utilizing my brain while I still have it. I refuse to let technology be smarter than I am. I’m probably fighting a losing battle there, but the benefit is in the trying right?