Virtually Divided

brain-piechartIt’s difficult to remember a time when the only thing that could distract you from work or dinner or your favorite TV show was the phone. And I mean the kind that plugged into the wall and only made one sound. Ever. It didn’t play the theme from Django, or the latest from Kanye, Beyonce or LMFAO. It just rang. And the only way to determine who was calling was to pick it up.

Getting things done is much more complicated now that in addition to your antiquated landline phone, your mobile phone with its endless news alerts, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter notifications, email alerts, software updates and game requests acts as a HUGE distraction. Add that to your desktop computer (if you are chained to one like I am) with its email alerts, IMs, meeting requests, software updates, etc., etc. and you may start to feel the urge to reach for the Xanax. Or a hammer.

It’s cool that we are able to do SO many things at once now. It really is. I can today—sitting in the Eastern Standard Time Zone—work simultaneously on a project with someone on the Pacific coast. I can grab the laptop to attend a meeting or escape to anywhere where there is wireless internet and access network files from the office.

But with all of the good that it brings, I can’t help but wonder: What harm is it doing? Are our brains going in so many different directions that no ONE thing gets the full attention that it deserves? Are we multitasking so often that we are going to forget how to sit still for as long as it takes to see ONE thing through to completion? Or is everything destined to be divided and done in pixel parts from here to eternity? Because obviously the virtual world is not only here to stay… but to go… with US anywhere we wish to take it.

I don’t know about you, but my personal time has become severely fractured too. I no longer just watch TV or eat dinner or have a conversation or look at Facebook or write. In a typical evening I might do all of the above at once. If I have a favorite show, I might push everything else to the side… laundry, dishes, conversation… to block off that 30 minutes or an hour to “relax and focus” on the entertaining dialog between some beloved characters, only to discover that I can’t keep my hands off my iPhone.

I used to only pick it up at commercials to play a game, return an email or troll Facebook for juicy gossip. But I’ve noticed that increasingly so, I am fiddling with it during the very show that I once tried so religiously to protect. I cannot stop multitasking. Last night I must have gotten OUT of bed six times (I am not kidding) to do something just because it “occurred to me” to do so. Well, that, and I feared I might forget. That is a real fear now. That I’ll forget.

Gee, I wonder why the risk of forgetfulness is so much higher now. We all like to joke around and attribute it to aging… but I myself, think the more likely culprit is a divided mind. After sliding back INTO bed for the sixth time, I finally told myself to JUST STOP. Crawl under the covers and STAY there. Do not pick up the phone. Do not surf the channels. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Just freaking SLEEP! OK!?! That is at least ONE time when I am doing only ONE thing at a time.

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iChallenged

It scared the crap out of me when it lit up all of the sudden and vibrated while playing a snappy little tune. My brand new iPhone was informing me (just in case I wanted to know) that 60% of Americans believe the US will be better off at the end of Obama’s second term. Well, actually CNN told me because I’d signed up to receive breaking news alerts but the phone was the vehicle used to convey the message. And I have to tell you that I am completely and utterly confounded by this slick, little rectangular device. How can something so small and seemingly innocent hold so much power?

Yes, I just got an iPhone. I know, I’m a little late to the party as far as many of you out there are concerned. Some of you have had this thing for all five of its incarnations. The television has been doing a fine job in letting me know exactly how behind the times I’ve been with it’s “Everyone has an iPhone!” campaign agenda for well over a year now. Judge me if you must… but I only got mine a week ago. Before garnering this “smart” phone I had what I like to call a “semi-smart” phone. It offered me semi-reliable access to the internet with a semi-glimpse of Facebook, email and movie showtimes — but that’s about where its “smarts” parts ended.

It had no Words with Friends or Angry Birds or the ability to crop and color-correct photos. I couldn’t identify a random song I heard playing on the radio by artist AND album release date or find out where in the world 75% of the gold used to make jewelry is mined. I wasn’t able to map my exact location at the drop of a hat and determine whether gas was going to be more or less expensive by the time I was ten miles away from said location. I know what you’re thinking… I KNOW! How in the world did I survive for so long without the use of such valuable tools and information!?! The mind reels at the very contemplation of such ghastly things.

Yet somehow I managed. But then… enter the iPhone. I had no idea what I’d been missing. In fact, ever since the geek at Best Buy handed me the thing I have been virtually unable to put it down. Once—over the holiday—I had to keep it in the car so that I wouldn’t keep picking it up and looking for new apps to download. My best friend (already in possession of her own iPhone) stayed with me for the weekend and we “caught up” with one another by organizing the folders on our phones and finding new e-gadgets, doo-hickeys and thing-a-ma-bobs to install. It is insane, this thing and what it can do.

I realize when I hold this device in my hand, that I’ve literally got the world at my fingertips. And my aim—for the seven days that I have had it thus far—has been to organize that world… my world into neatly labeled and arranged folders. In addition to some of the features mentioned above, I am thrilled that I can also use my iPhone as a mirror, a flashlight, a timer, a dictionary, a compass, a bartender and a jukebox to name a few. Ironically, the only issue I’ve had with it has been using the “phone” part. Yes, you read right. I have been able to do ALL these wicked-cool things quite proficiently with my new phone except to use it as an actual PHONE.

Lee had to show me how to make and pick up a call. My nephew had to show me how to listen to my voicemail and my bff had to demonstrate for me how to readily access and retrieve aforementioned voicemail. Apparently, my friends, as much as it pains me to admit it, the upgrade from a semi-smart phone to a full-fledged smart phone does not guarantee that one’s semi-smart abilities will likewise be upgraded.

Breaking Bread (or Beignets) in New Orleans

Technology has, undoubtedly, shrunken our world. Day after day, year after year our world grows smaller and smaller as the opportunity for simultaneous, spontaneous and continuous interaction grows larger and larger. It is no longer an accomplishment of note to be “in touch” with others all over the globe 24/7.

But I believe that no matter the amount of unbroken digital and virtual contact we may have at any given time — it will never replace the genuine sense of community and closeness that can only be derived from the good, old-fashioned practice that is the breaking of bread.

A little over a week ago I had the rare privilege of contacting someone who has—over the course of the last year—become a close virtual friend. I “met” Paige here on WordPress when we both began blogging around the same time last summer. Our stories almost mirrored one another in a way that only happens once in a great while… and a kinship was formed.

Lee and I made a rather snappy decision to head south to New Orleans one day and with my bag already hastily packed with the most humidity-friendly garments I could find… I was emailing her the very next. She called me when I was somewhere between Montgomery and Mobile and we made plans to meet for lunch in the French Quarter the day after next.

I was still absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of the very unique Crescent City when I heard a small voice behind me calling out my name. Pictures can only do so much to help identify a person and in a Sunday afternoon crowd in Jackson Square… it can be a little tricky to spot a pixelated pal. It was Paige and her boyfriend Caleb and although we had never before met in person, I felt like I already knew her.

We picked up our conversation wherever we’d left off when last communicating online but bits of disbelief lingered about the fact that we were actually, literally sitting across from one another and speaking rather than typing our thoughts. Although our afternoon together was too short, I was infinitely grateful that the stars had aligned just so for that brief period of time.

And I was reminded that yes, technology HAS made it possible to sit behind this computer of mine for hours on end and connect with wonderful people all over the world… But it is also possible to occasionally get out from behind my monitor and keyboard and hop in the car or board a plane and meet those same wonderful people face-to-face.

Thank you Paige and Caleb for showing us a wonderful time in your fabulous city!  You can check out her blog at: http://sideoftheleaf.wordpress.com/

Out of Touch

Last night I was perfectly content sitting on my couch and NOT multitasking. I was doing one thing and one thing only. Watching Seinfeld re-runs. I was not on the phone or the laptop Facebooking, Twittering or blogging. I was just sitting there—like a tree stump dressed in grey sweatpants and a weathered In & Out Burger t-shirt—and it was glorious.

It was at this point that I saw a commercial for the newest ipad. The commercial showed a woman about my age, in the Apple store, looking at the shiny new gadget the salesman had just presented to her. She cautiously grasped the ipad like it was the Holy Grail and the moment it was in her hands, she was immediately transported to all of these exotic locales.

She traveled to remote sun-washed beaches, gourmet, five-star restaurants, rockin’ night clubs, casinos and both National and International landmarks. And all the while, she never looked up from that damn ipad. Apple’s selling point being that this device can go with you wherever, whenever and you can stay connected.

WTF?!?! Helloooo!!! You're in P-A-R-A-D-I-S-E. LOOK AROUND!!!

I’m sorry, am I the only one who has the desire to visit remote and exotic sun-washed beaches, gourmet, five-star restaurants, rockin’ night clubs, casinos and both National and International landmarks for the sole purposes of getting away from AND staying OUT of touch with the world? I mean, there’s a reason that the freakin’ screen savers and wallpapers on these things have pictures of Fiji and Mt. Kilimanjaro on them. Duh.

Though perhaps that is the final irony here… The place in which we’ve arrived on the evolutionary ladder of man vs. technology… If you’re toiling at your desk… you dream of Fiji or of standing in the shadow of Kilimanjaro. But if you’re actually IN Fiji or standing in the shadow of Kilimanjaro… you want to be at the office?!

I don’t know about you, but if I had the time and resources to travel to far-flung corners of the globe and visit the types of exclusive destinations that this chick was inhabiting in the ipad commercial… I would take that flat, wireless, super-sleek, state-of-the-art, hi-speed, touch-screen piece of crap capable of keeping me “connected” 24/7… and fling it as far as it would go.