Road Trips, Starbursts, and Ram: A Technology Crisis

At the risk of redundancy, I’m writing again about technology. My last post (too many days ago) was about my father’s typewriter, which he believed was great technology. This post is about my own devices, the greatness of which I’m beginning to doubt.

Five days ago, my laptop had an accident that resulted in a busted screen. This produced an interesting right angle starburst effect that made me want to weep. The laptop is awaiting repair but unusable until the part comes in, which the Apple guy said would be “Friday-ish.” It’s Sunday, so he knew what he was talking about. The day before this tragedy I lost my cell phone for a day, then found it. It was rough. Now, the good folks at Apple tell me that I can’t upgrade the operating system on my desktop computer (which is my backup computer) because it doesn’t have enough mojo. I can’t afford more ram, however, because I have to pay for the busted screen on the laptop. Woe is me. I’m writing this on my IPad, which has so far escaped the week of technology disasters. But the Pad is jittery, sensing that perhaps its number is coming up.

Only last week, I confessed to a group of friends that perhaps my dependency on my devices was becoming a bit obsessive. This is a tired, familiar story. Everyone seems to be lamenting their phones, and pads, and laptop love. And we’re remembering (fondly?) the days when we communicated by letters and phones with cords. But our laments are insincere. No one wants to go back to those days, including me.

But I do want some balance. Some moderation. Perspective, perhaps?

Last night, as I was telling my oldest daughter to be sure and text me from her camping trip,  I was mentally reminding myself to charge my son with the same task. I want him to text me from the road trip he is going on, and then from the beach once he gets there. Really? Is that necessary? I think so. And they won’t mind because it’s easy. Just a quick text to say, “We’re all awake in the van,” or “We made it here safely.”

In 1987, I drove to Virginia to begin graduate school. I was on my own in a strange city for the first time, which was both exhilarating and frightening. The latter emotion won out when someone tried to enter my apartment four days after I moved in. I was home, listening to the doorknob jiggle and hearing the would-be intruder call me by name. He made a few threats as he continued his attempt to open my apartment door. I put a dining room chair under the doorknob and began to pack. A series of unfortunate events had culminated in this, and so I heard the clear message that I had chosen the wrong school. In a panic, I loaded up my car and headed to Athens, Georgia to enroll in school choice #2, only to find that they had no space until the spring semester. Crushed, I decided to take the long way home.

It took me two full days to drive from Athens to Tulsa. I took backroads, not because I was especially adventurous, but because I was lost. I passed through small town Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and then north to Arkansas. Yes, there were shorter routes, but I didn’t care. I was meandering in a state of sorrow. I stayed in a cheap motel one night – racing into my room in a thunderstorm and then listening to the crackle and explosions all night with a chair under the doorknob – again. I called my parents from a pay phone the next morning because it was the only way I knew to make a collect call. (Remember those?)

Last night, as I was thinking about my college kids on the camping and beach trips, I forced myself to imagine what my parents must have been going through during those two days I was making my way through the southern states. Only one phone call before I left, and then one after the thunderstorm. I admitted to them I was lost. I dismissed my father’s directives on how to get back to the interstate. I told them I didn’t know how long it would take me to get home. When I finally pulled into the driveway, my mother had every justification for unrolling herself from the fetal position she should have been in so she could grab both my shoulders and shake me silly. But instead, she hugged me and cried sloppily, which I now realize is because she had spent about 16 hours since the last phone call wondering if I was dead or alive.

When our older children travel, we can call them at any moment to ask, “Are you alive?” It’s a wonderful feeling of control in a world that gives us little. My cell phone provides me with this illusive feeling, and so do my computers and my IPad. The world is at my fingertips. I can learn, communicate, make plans, create, set alarms, plan meetings, organize my life in photos, make new friends and keep the old. Whatever would I do without all this? Now I know: I would fidget. Which is what I have done for exactly six days. I’m not sure what my mother would say about this. She never touched a computer and at the end of her life she did use a cell phone, but she was one of those people who didn’t understand that you need not yell into it. I am certain, however, that her faith was strengthened every time I walked out her door. She put me in God’s hands, knowing that there was no real line of communication. If I wanted to contact her, it was up to me. There was no pesky texts or annoying phone calls from her asking, “Where are you?”

I wouldn’t trade her life for mine. But I do wish I could release the control button a bit and stop thinking that the chair under the doorknob is going to protect me and mine from all the chaos in the world. My efforts to keep my children within my reach won’t keep them from harm. The technology that I think keeps me sane is probably rewiring my brain cells in frightening ways. So I’ve decided that when my laptop is finally returned to me, my software is upgraded, and all is well with my devices, I shall put them down for a spell here and there. Perhaps I’ll read a novel, take a walk in the sunshine, stand in line at the check-out while resisting the urge to check my email…just to see if I can do it. And then, of course, I will blog about these things, post them on Facebook, and send a tweet to let everyone know I’m resisting technology.

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