Sunday, April 11, 2010

Keith: Unplugged

I just returned from a week in the Caribbean. No internet. No cell service - except for the one day in Cozumel where it probably cost me $300 bucks for a half dozen phone calls and email downloads. We have an unlimited international phone/text/data plan but always have "additional" charges each month. This begs the question: Why are these bills always so damn complicated? Answer: Because I'm with AT&T.

I confess that there is something deeply soothing and therapeutic about being unplugged from the rest of the world for a little while. Sure I missed the Donovan McNabb trade - that was a biggie. As a hugely devoted Eagle fan of 30+ years I was sad to see him go but that's life in the NFL. I also missed the start of major league baseball but since there are 2000+ more games left this year and they all look the same I'll get over it. I did get the CBS feed in our stateroom to watch the best NCAA mens basketball final in years and was cheering wildly for Butler by the way. I did not miss the political discourse that seems to take up so much of the news nowadays. The absence of information overload was cathartic. It allowed me to catch up on sleep (to the point where I now consider it a hobby). I sat in the sun and experienced some of the best people watching of my life. I read some wonderful books. I ate more red meat in a week than I usually do in a month and in summary, in the parlance of todays youth, I just "chilled."

Being out of digital loop made me think about the electronic gadgets that keep us tethered to our offices, friends, family,news, music and the world. It's all about data. Data, data, data.

There are iphones, blackberries, palms, ipods, kindles, playstations, laptops, Wii's, ipads, MP3's, macbooks, handheld games I have never heard of and so forth that allow us to talk, download/upload, correspond, be entertained and stay connected to each other 24/7. I remember the time when getting a letter was a big deal. When a long distance call was a big deal and would elicit a holler heard throughout the house if not the entire neighborhood, "Aunt Emma is calling LONG DISTANCE." (Since Aunt Emma and Uncle Joe lived in Ohio and we lived in California, would the call be anythying other than long distance?) I also remember seeing my first fax and thinking how cool that was. The fax, along with the handwritten letter - placed in an envelope, stamped and mailed - have been replaced, for better or worse, by "electronic mail" and attachments. We don't even get our photo's developed anymore (except for my mom) since they are all electronic images - does Kodak still exist?

The aforemetioned led to a discussion last week with others around my age about all the things our kids would consider utterly foreign like vinyl records, 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, top-loading washing machines, 4 burner stoves, 3 channels piped into the lone television in the house, no internet, a single refrigerator in the kitchen, no computers, no cell phones and all the things noted in the previous paragraph.

The downside to all of this electronic connectivity is that it's created a dependency and a led to a generation of paranoia. I remember being told as a kid to come home when the streetlights came on. Kids rarely leave home now and when they do, I would venture to guess that all of them have phones and are in constant communication with the mothership. I also recall the days of riding a bicycle without (gasp) a helmet. Nowadays, how often do you see kids riding bikes at all? Are there still bike racks at schools? Today mom's have added taxi service to their seemingly never ending list of tasks. Me? I rode a bike until I was 16.

The bottom line is, alas, that I like my gadgets. I just want to use them less but also find the thought of that absurd since I'm actually typing up this very blog post on a laptop via a wireless internet connection (how does THAT work man?), while laying on the sofa as my wife watches a program on a 60" TV that was recorded on a DVR while we were on vacation.

As 4 refrigerators humm throughout the house....