Regular readers of this column are to be forgiven for thinking that I'm a technophobe. Although I may sometimes seem like one, I'm not. Not in the least. I compose these words on a computer, frequently relying on my word processor's built-in spell checker and thesaurus. I transmit my columns to the editor via email, not snail mail. I have a Palm personal digital assistant. True, it's an old Palm III without much memory, but I don't know very many people, so it more than fulfills my needs. I own a car equipped with OnStar and a dashboard computer display that tells me the date, the time, the temperature, how far I can drive before emptying the gas tank. It even tells me when it's time to bring the car in for service (although I suspect that the latter is more for the benefit of my dealer's revenue stream than for the maintenance of my car's good working order). And, I don't remember when, but I seem to vaguely recall once, in a rare moment of digital frivolousness, using my cell phone to call one of my three friends.
It's true that I do think that a few of our uses of technology are incredibly stupid. Using eight buttons on a cell phone to tap out text messages in a 26-character alphabet is one excellent example. Nonetheless, I am not against all or even most technologies. Many have dramatically improved our lives in ways that would have been unimaginable to our grandparents when they were our age. It's just that I think that we need to get our priorities straight.
A technology's mere existence doesn't require that we use it all of the time or even at all. That's especially true when there are better alternatives, which is often the case. So, in no particular order, here's my list of the top signs that it is time for you to reexamine your priorities when it comes to your use of technology:
- You fritter away most of your waking hours deeply engrossed in a virtual reality game to the extent that it makes it impossible for you to experience the real reality around you. If for more than one day you hear only computer-simulated sounds and the closest you come to any human contact is your interaction with computer-generated avatars, then you definitely have a problem. If this is you, here's a suggestion: At least a couple times a month, make it a point to get away from all electrical outlets for a period long enough to outlast the batteries in all of your portable gadgets and gizmos.
- You stand in line for several hours, suffering through brutally inclement weather, just so that you can be one of the first to get your hands on the latest, greatest video game when it goes on sale at a special midnight opening of your local computer store. Get a life and get some sleep. I'll let you in on a little secret that the game makers may not tell you: These are not limited-edition prints. Even if the first batch sells out, more will eventually come in. It wouldn't be such a tragedy if you have to wait until tomorrow or even a month from now to buy and become addicted to the game and, thereby, waste an obscenely large portion of your life.
- For the first time in quite a while, you make a great effort and go well out of your way to get together with a close friend at a café or restaurant and then you spend the whole time talking to someone else on your cell phone. I would like to propose a strict rule for personal relations: The friend, relative, or associate sitting next to you trumps the person on your cell phone every time.
- You finally take a well-deserved, long-overdue vacation, but you catch yourself reflexively looking at your BlackBerry every 30 seconds as you sit out on the beach, stroll the streets of Paris, trek the Appalachian Trail, or whatever it is that you choose to do on your vacation. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you're not that important. The world will get along just fine without you for a week. Enjoy your holiday. And if you happen to be vacationing in Venice, chuck the BlackBerry into one of the canals.
That sounds like tough medicine, but face it, you're an addict. The first step on the road to recovery is to admit that you have a problem. Chucking the BlackBerry into the canal would be a good second step.
- You break out into a cold sweat and have massive, life-threatening heart palpitations whenever the battery indicator on your cell phone gets anywhere close to empty. Chill out and ditto on the "you're not that important" thing. If your lazy, good-for-nothing relative, acquaintance, or coworker who, once again, wants to borrow some money can't get in touch with you for a few hours, that wouldn't be such a bad thing. And be thankful that the never-ending stream of telemarketers won't be able to get a hold of you for a while.
Don't worry. It's exceptionally unlikely that anyone is going to die just because you can't make or receive calls until you get a chance to charge up your cell phone.
- You think that a friend is not worth having if he or she doesn't have an email address. I'm not a technophobe, but they do exist. Believe it or not, some of them are even worth knowing. That's assuming you can tear yourself away from your computer long enough to actually say hello to them without the help of a digital intermediary.
- You are deathly afraid of computer viruses, but are totally unaware that the organic versions exist. Because I depend so much on my computer, computer viruses scare the heck out of me. But if somebody put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between having my computer infected with a virus or having my body infected with one of the deadly biological kind, well, all I can say is please feel free to give those hackers my computer's Internet address. In fact, I'd be happy to travel a long distance to hand my computer over to them and give them my passwords if remotely hacking into my computer would be too much of an inconvenience for them.
- Late Sunday afternoon, after watching you work all weekend long on your home computer, your spouse suggests that you take a break and the two of you go out for a drive. You think that your spouse is asking you to help him or her shop online for new storage for the family computer. You vociferously chastise your spouse when, after many words of explanation on his or her part, you finally understand that your spouse is talking about going somewhere in the car and not buying a computer hard drive. Heaven forbid that you should take a short break from your computer just because it's a weekend.
I realize that there are times when economic realities require slaving long hours over a hot computer, but when you cannot even conceive of anything else, it's time to seek professional help.
- You think that there is absolutely, positively no place whatsoever in an IT-related publication for a little humor. Don't panic. If you bothered to read this far, you're already well on your way down the road to recovery. To complete the cure, step away from your computer, watch two of Woody Allen's earlier movies, and call me in the morning.