Plugged vs unplugged

My grandmother grew up in a village without running water. She had to lug water from the local well.

I have never lugged water from a well. I largely take electricity, plumbing, sanitation, transport and the availability of food for granted. The huge difference between the circumstances that my grandmother was born into and my own is partly to do with immigration from a developing to a developed nation. But it’s also thanks to technology: who has it, who develops it, how much it costs and what it can do. It is difficult to fathom the myriad ways in which technology contributes to our lives and the rate at which it is transforming the ways we relate, work and relax.

What does it mean to ‘unplug’?

I had a emergency c-section earlier this year. Without it, I would have died, most likely my daughter too. I don’t want to ‘unplug’ from that technology.

I drive a vehicle that is over ten years old and in need of a good wash. Yet it is designed so precisely, that I can confidently steer it within a few inches of another vehicle travelling at speed in the opposite direction, separated by nothing more than a white line.

I can live almost anywhere in this vast country and expect that my home will have access to very reliable electricity. If I need to leave my home at night, I can illuminate the darkness of night with a handheld torch (only necessary of course if the streets are not already illuminated for me by street lights).

I can drink the water right out of a tap that is plumbed into my home because the supply is tested regularly and treated. I don’t even know what type of technology is used to do that but I’m glad for it all the same.

Overwhelmingly, I am grateful for technology.

I hear alarm in the community though about technology becoming too ubiquitous, especially in our social relations. Fear that children are losing the ability to converse in person. That people are ‘wasting’ their lives in front of screens. That smartphones are like parasites, sucking our attention away from the ‘real’ world.

Here’s what I know about using my smartphone.

I know that it has become so much a part of my life that I sometimes feel it vibrate when it is not vibrating. I know that when I hear certain notes in a song my brain mistakes it for my ringtone and makes my hand reach out to answer a call that doesn’t exist. I sometimes get pulled into a social media sinkhole of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling that when I come to, leaves me feeling slightly nauseated and yearning for the time lost. I’ve heard it reported that the human thumb is now our most dexterous digit. Technology changing nature.

And yet. When I become conscious that I am spending time on my phone at the expense of other things or feeling tethered to my phone instead of empowered by it, I use that same phone to slow down and refocus.

I use the meditation app ‘Mind the Bump,’ which is especially designed for new parents, to give me time-out and mental rejuvenation when I need it.

I use my phone and sometimes i-pad to read proper books when I can’t read a hardcopy book without disturbing the baby. I finished two Liane Moriarty novels and ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay in those heady first few months of motherhood when I was almost continuously breastfeeding. Some people may think that is a terrible corruption of motherhood, that I should have spent all those moments gazing lovingly at my baby. What rot. It was a blessing to have relief from the tedium and there was still plenty of time for loving gazes. I was happier and had more to give during the rest of the day because of it.

I’m especially grateful for the communication technology that enables us to connect when we otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t.

My two-year-old nephew who lives interstate has regular video calls with his grandparents. Is it more important that he has those opportunities for connection or stays away from screens?

I’m part of a diverse group of local feminists who mostly interacts online. We held a rally and meet face to face from time-to-time but the majority of the connection (and debate) is online. I can’t think of another way that I could so easily share and consider ideas, opinions and such a diversity of lived experiences.

But it pains me to see people out to lunch or walking in the park, staring at their phones instead of being present to the pleasures of the nature and people around them.

Sometimes, only a cheek-to-cheek hug will do. Sometimes, you need to see the pain in someone’s eyes to understand what they need. You’re not going to see that if your face is in your phone.

Should you ‘unplug’ from technology? Perhaps the better question is… ‘Is technology helping or hindering me from being who I need to be in this moment?’

How does technology impact your life? This is a group writing project inspired by Erin from Design for Mankind. Pop over to Meet me at Mike's to read Pip's take on plugged vs unplugged and find links to other blog posts on this theme in the comments on Pip's post.  Join the conversation

28 October, 2015

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