These days, the virtual options are endless, from Zoom dance parties to trivia nights to happy hours to classes with clever names like ZoomProv or ZoomBa. Technology has blessed us with the ability to distract the living hell out of ourselves and stave off the crushing impact of the isolation we’ve been forced to endure.
Yes, innovation is a freaking miracle. It is among the things for which I’ve been truly grateful (and completely reliant upon) throughout this seemingly endless pandemic — but it’s also beginning to drive me crazy.
I think it was the most recent kids’ Zoom birthday party I attended that pushed me over the edge. (And, yes, there have been several Zoom birthday parties.) Ten adorable but incredibly loud and, let’s be honest, unbelievably grating kindergarteners, all screaming at the top of their lungs, challenging each other to utilize the latest feature they’d unearthed.
“Can you change your background?”
“I’m in San Francisco!”
“Wait … I just dove into the ocean!”
“I’m in space!”
All the while, my daughter pleaded with me as I desperately fumbled to figure out how to get her to the virtual Golden Gate Bridge to “meet” her friends, before having a full-blown, Defcon 5-level meltdown.
When I realized I was the only parent who hadn’t jumped ship and left their offspring to fend for themselves a la The Hunger Games, I tiptoed out of the room — only to be hunted down five minutes later with the iPad camera trained on me as I sat there, horrified, on the toilet.
Sure, my excessive consumption of strong coffee combined with interminable home confinement due to a pandemic is, without a doubt, a potent recipe for frayed nerves and a profound lack of patience. But honestly? At this point, I’ve had it with technology.
I know we’re supposed to be throwing our screen time rules out the window during these trying times, and I should be celebrating the miracle of technology and its ability to bring us together during this epically insane period in history. But… are three-hour Google Hangouts really advisable for a small child? And do all of my friends need to FaceTime to say hello rather than simply calling? I remember what you look like and frankly, I generally resemble a sleep-deprived Dee Snider when I’m not expecting visitors, so impromptu FaceTimes are not my thing. I don’t want to have to wear a bra just in case.
And while I’m on the topic: Why does every business meeting have to be via video conference instead of the telephone? I mastered the art of avoiding in-person meetings a decade ago, so why do I have to participate in this nonsense? Just so clients can make sure we’re not lying on rafts somewhere, drinking Mai Tais while counting their monthly retainer instead of doing our jobs?
Of course, I’ve begrudgingly embraced high-speed internet access in all of its Wi-fi and blue-toothed glory (thank you, Hedy Lamarr!) out of pure necessity. Docusigning, Tiny Scanning, Daily Calming, Prime Nowing, Postmating, and Instacarting have actually become verbs that we use regularly in our household. However, when my 6-year-old daughter started having heated conversations with Siri and inquiring about how to post videos on the internet, my profound concerns were reignited.
It’s not that I want to return to the age of darkness when we played on scalding, hot metal death traps at the park, didn’t wear seatbelts, and ate in restaurants shrouded in cigarette smoke. But I do long for the simplicity, occasional inaccessibility, and legitimate human connection of yesteryear.
Ironically, just as I was reaching my technological breaking point, my daughter became obsessed with hearing about the ways in which life was different back in the olden days — that is to say, when I was a kid in the ’80s. And, once we got past the mildly offensive “did you guys have cars back then?” question, I actually quite enjoyed blowing her mind by enumerating the ways in which life has profoundly changed. Among them:
Phones didn’t travel with us and were only used for making phone calls.
We didn’t have computers, iPads, smartphones, or Google, Siri or Alexa to look things up – so when you needed a piece of information, you had to drag yourself to the library and research a topic.
You didn’t see people UNLESS they were right in front of you. FaceTime was science fiction to us – the stuff of Dick Tracy or The Jetsons.
We had 13 channels to choose from and we could only view things when they aired on live TV.
If we wanted to hear a particular song, we would have to wait until it was played on the terrestrial radio. If we wanted to record it, we’d use a tape recorder, and would invariably miss the first several seconds.
Pictures had to be developed — a process that took days, if not weeks.
After picking her jaw up off the ground, my daughter expressed great sadness at my having to suffer through such tremendous hardships. But is life really better now? Easier, maybe. More accessible, definitely. But better? I’m not so sure. And here’s why:
Things are less special now. I can get anything I want from just about anywhere in the world by simply stroking a few keys on my computer. I realize that sounds great, but it makes travel far less interesting. The world is now one big shopping mall and cultural homogeneity reigns supreme.
We demand instant gratification. We have ZERO patience and little appreciation, not just for material goods but for everything. We want what we want, when we want it. Even Amazon Prime is too slow, we want it Prime NOW.
Social skills are suffering terribly. How many times, at least BC (Before Covid), have you been at a restaurant and witnessed a group of people sitting together but separately engrossed in their individual smart phones? Or been to a park and seen a parent with their face pressed against their phone, entirely disengaged from their child?
No one is present. We are watching the world through our phones. Whether we’re at a concert, looking at a sunset or eating a glorious meal, we are documenting instead of experiencing life.
We don’t write in full sentences, so grammar, sentence structure, and spelling are becoming lost skills.
It’s dangerous. Whether it’s distracted driving or the idiotic pursuit of the perfect selfie while dangling from a cliff, people are so busy living their digital lives that they’re putting their actual lives (and those of others) in jeopardy.
FOMO-induced pursuit of unattainable, meticulously curated social media lies/lives that often result in unwarranted envy and consequent depression for many.
The anonymity and distance afforded by the digital age facilitates cowardly bullying.
Our minds are atrophying since we don’t have to exercise that muscle. We no longer need to remember phone numbers, addresses, or how to get anywhere. We need not strain to retrieve any information because we can just ask Siri or Alexa to figure it out for us. (In fact, we don’t even have to recall memories – it’s all documented on Instagram.)
Online dating is a wonderful tool, but it also fosters a swipe-right-to-hook-up mentality that leads to lack of seriousness and reluctance to commit.
For now, in the midst of a pandemic, I will continue to pledge my allegiance to technology. These days, it’s how my daughter is educated, how I earn an income, how we maintain our relationships and how we continue to Seamlessly devour our Postmated, Instacarted, Caviar, and Door Dashed deliveries.
My nostalgia for the days when phones were tethered to walls — and not omnipresent extensions of our own hands — will have to wait until a vaccine is proven safe or we achieve some measure of herd immunity. So, I will surrender to technology for the time being. But when this thing is over, I vow to profoundly scale back our technological dependence. I’m not going off the grid or embracing #VanLife, but I do plan to unplug often and reconnect to the living, breathing world. I wish to be present, and I want my daughter to experience life with her own two eyes rather than through the lens of a smartphone. I want her to measure success by something more meaningful than likes. Imagine if we, as a society, could ignite some sort of collective backlash, a real seismic cultural shift in how we conduct our lives IRL. Perhaps that could be a true silver lining to this nightmare through which we are all currently living.
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