It happened slowly. So slowly that I scarcely noticed my descent into addiction or whatever you want to call my absolute dependence on technology. I am not someone who physically must have a respirator to breathe or a computer to speak. I have actually chosen to allow technology to speak for me and to me and have sway in my daily life.
It was not so long ago that society’s idea of technology was a television and being connected was the nightly news. Just in the last 10 years, scientific advances in telecommunications have placed current events and social interaction in our pockets. We are never unavailable, for better or worse.
When I wake in the morning, the first place I look is my smartphone. It is my alarm clock, my lifeline. It dictates and manages my work-out program. Reporting to its software holds me accountable for what I eat and if I am moving enough. It wasn’t something I thought much about, it was just so easy to allow the convenience to control and guide me, making me better.
It has the software to monitor my sleep. The alarms keep me on time for appointments and help me remember birthdays and important occasions. This specter of technology organizes and motivates me. It is my matrix.
The matrix also keeps me in touch with the world. I can (and do) check it regularly for news and updates on friends and clients and their animals. Although I ask clients not to message me on social media with medical issues, some still do so I call checking it “work”. My email and message alerts bark, meow and purr with regularity.
It is a precarious relationship. I tell myself it is dedication. You see, my clients can (and often do) email me with medical questions or concerns about their pets (my patients). They are instructed not to email about emergencies because there might be a lag in my reply, but this typically not the case. There is little lag. I am chained to my phone. There are animals boarding at Applebrook, so I need to be reachable in case of emergency. These things ARE important, but I have become a little like Gollum with the precious ring.
I don’t like anyone to touch my phone, in fear that they will drop it or break it or more importantly change a setting upon which I depend. I realize how devastating it would be for me to not hear the alerts and alarms. I imagine myself forgetting to go to work, letting clients down or not being aware of a widespread catastrophe without my smartphone. The unspeakable horror of life unraveling without my knowledge and input is more than I can bear.
I do have friends that I would have in no other way. They too are chained to their phones. I guess there is an intimacy in sharing every little thought, but I fear it has become a substitute for personal interaction and not just a supplement.
Would I really fail to function without the technology? Would life as I know it screech to a grinding halt? I got to find out. I left my phone in a restaurant on Friday night and I realized too late to drive back and get it that night. We called the restaurant and our server agreed to set it out of harm’s way until we could get back. So I was without it all night and the next day until I could get back to the neighboring town where the restaurant is.
Morning came and it was Saturday, so didn’t have a set schedule and (even without my phone) I awoke at a reasonable hour all by myself. I had survived the first challenge of not having my alarm clock.
I didn’t work out without the matrix nagging me to do so, but weekends are usually free days for me anyway. Second challenge postponed for another day.
I had numerous errands to run and miraculously I remembered them without the check list on my phone.
When I went to the grocery store, I found that without my face buried in my screen, I was able to see a man unloading his cart in a handicapped space. I paused for him to finish and asked if I could take his cart back for him. He gave me a dazzling smile and said, “Oh, yes that would be lovely.”
Next stop was a big box store for household items. While I was inside, a torrential downpour began. Without my attention fixed on my tiny screen and the lists and reminders framed within, I noticed the sound of the rain pounding on the industrial roof as did another shopper who mentioned it to me. We exchanged pleasantries and I was left feeling warm and human.
As I neared the entrance with the rain still pouring down, groups of people were paused at the automatic door, waiting to see if the torrent would abate. An elderly woman sat nearby on a bench and noticed my cart and car keys and she said, “Oh, honey, it is pouring. Sit here and wait a minute. It’s already looking less black.” She gently patted the bench next to her.
My former self (haha, you know…yesterday) would have not have realized the opportunity, but today I paused and spoke to her for a moment. I didn’t tarry long since I had cold items in the jeep from my first stop, but I did have a conversation with her. We speculated on the length of the storm and the suddenness of its appearance before I plunged out into the storm. Again I was stricken by the feeling of being connected and human.
The challenge of interacting with people in a rewarding way had also been overcome without the matrix.
Afternoon came and I knew the restaurant was open again and I could retrieve my precious, but I wasn’t really in hurry to do so. I had begun to question my dependence on its convenience. I arrived at the restaurant and it was early so there were few patrons inside. The hostess greeted me with a smile as I explained that I had come to retrieve the left cell phone. She laughed and said that she believed she had what I was looking for and slowly pulled my smartphone from the bowels of her hostess desk. She thought she knew that I had missed my matrix because she produced it with fanfare and suspense.
I was afraid to turn on the screen. How many missed messages would I have? What crisis had I missed? Had I lost any clients by being unavailable? Had any living thing died in my absence? My thumb poised over the button, I glanced down anticipating tiny icons with numbers above them and blinking blue lights.
The familiar scene on my home screen met my eyes. The digital clock blinked on in its never ending pace to infinity. All the tiny icons were there, looking familiar. I held my breath as my eyes roved the screen.
No blue light blinked. No icon was flagged. No animal had suffered and no crisis had occurred. No one had even noticed my absence. Such a short time had altered my perception so much. My ego had led me to believe that I was indispensable and irreplaceable, but it just wasn’t true. Life went on even when I did not have my finger on its technological pulse.
I have always reminded pet owners not to try to reach me electronically in the event of an emergency, but it is even more critical now. Because of my experience this weekend, I plan to disconnect more often.
I have come to realize that while I was disconnected from my matrix, I became more connected with life.