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February 12, 2014

The Subtle Grip of Technology.

girls phones

Warning: naughty language ahead.

The door almost closes behind me before I realize: Shoot, I forgot my phone, I’d better be responsible and grab it.

What if there’s an emergency? What if someone needs me?

This is the context: I’m going upstairs to sit in a hot-tub.

I’m going twelve stories up to a poolroom saddled with cameras and intermittent apartment-building personnel checking in on the place—an emergency would mean explosives or alien invasion of some sort, and if that’s the case, the phone’s absolute uselessness is revealed in full transparency.

I do not need my phone.

But if someone needs me—yeah right!—these days, it means that I get a text asking where u at, grl?, and a timely response is expected, not even voice to voice—pointer-finger to pointer-finger will suffice. I have only ever gotten one phone call that I thought was absolutely necessary. Nobody needs anything from me. Why am I telling myself someone might need me?

This whole dialogue is starting to sound absurd.

Nonetheless, I grab it anyway, because I’ve told myself that this is the responsible thing to do. How convenient for me that I have created this justification for myself.

Maybe the rude pool lady will be upstairs and I can snap a picture of her sandals or something to send to Oli-face. It would somehow be rude not to (he is part of the inside joke, after-all).

A brief ten minutes later and I am soaking; I’ve relegated the phone to a table and I’ve thrown my towel on top of it as a form of technological rejection.

I’ve finished my hot-tub chit-chat with an older gentleman who at first seemed to be not so into our talk, but surprised me with his conversational proactivity at asking questions that were really enjoyable to discuss. It’s sometimes really surprising what five minutes can contain between two people.

I am alone.

This is the thing about my technology: when I find myself in idleness, my first impulse is to grab it. Isn’t it convenient that I brought my phone up here?

Suddenly, this is called into my mind: it’s scary to be alone, and acquiring technology will fix it. Our technology makes it so that we are never alone, which is convenient, since that’s what we’re scared of and sometimes we don’t even know it.

I am reminded of all the television, internet perusal, aimless phone wandering, game playing, etc. that I’ve filled my time with over the years, and when I try to remember even just one specific moment, I only get hazy images of things that went on for hours. And hours. And.

Hours.

I don’t remember feelings or faces or conversations or sittings, because there was none of that during those times. Those times are a composite glob of gray, bundling the equivalent of probably one calendar year into a space labeled: what happened to my time? 

I was not alone during those times, even if I was in a room by myself. I was always with my technology, petting it and letting it pet me into mental oblivion.

It’s not that I want to lash out against it—I have no impulse to take my phone and slam it to the depths of the hot-tub water, but it really makes me wonder: why am I using technology as much as I am?

I opt out of reaching for my phone—since it’s only been 15 minutes since I left the apartment—and instead sink until my nose pulls in half-bubbles, half-air.

Yes. I am alone.

This is a winter respite, with windows that go sky-high—today’s crystal clear visibility turns an otherwise dreary 11-degree day into a late summer afternoon.

I am in Florida. I am in California. I am on an undisclosed island in a hotel owned by one of those Hilton girls, and there are turtles outside on the beach somewhere.

My mind settles into the agreement to become simple—forget about the inbox; forget about the 15 conversations that are still open on g-chat, text messaging, social network sites, etc; forget about the general convenience of being able to acquire any knowledge about anything at anytime.

It’s like I set up 50 fishing lines, and in the middle of trying to psychotically reel them all in, I throw up my hands and say, “Fuck this! B-dawg is out!”

I came up here in an effort to stop giving a shit what everyone else is doing and just let my body soak. I don’t want other people to know where I’m at, and I don’t want to know where other people are.

Our technology makes us too pinned down.

Things begin to slow down. I start to notice things that my mind tends to skip over when my brain is full of useless thoughts, and I am suddenly presented with the opportunity to become bored or become interested.

Become interested in myself without thoughts.

This is the other thing my technology is really good at: giving me a lot of thoughts.

But without them:

There are pipes in the walls that drain the tub if the water level gets too high. As I look around, I notice that they are all positioned right over the jets, which means that when I center my low-back on the jet stream, the pipe-holes sit at my upper back near my shoulder blades. I play around with the distance I can sit away from them, because when you get too close, the pipes will suction your skin towards them, like a vacuum cleaner, or someone really determined to give you a hickie.

It’s like a hot-tub kiss. In summer. In Florida.

The bubbles are sun-lit which means that they are varied in color and sheen, making me feel like it would not be out of the ordinary for a mermaid to just pop up and tell me there’s such thing as magic and also do I want to go explore Atlantis with her?

Life is perfect right now.

And then I’m reminded that perfection is not a combination of circumstances that must be met; perfection is the perspective of acceptance. When we accept life as it is given Now, then life is perfect.

This means that life can be perfect at any time. Not just in a hot-tub.

Oh, but of course:

Pecks of thoughts perforate these moments of perfection.

Technology has trained my thought patterns in two ways: one of the ways is to simply shut all systems down—to become empty and thoughtless. This might sound peaceful, except that I’m not present with myself during these times, I’m absent from myself—a little time-out that feels so easily justified after long days and big stress. This is when it seems like a good idea to let the dull drone of a movie put me to sleep at night.

The other way technology has trained my system is to let my thoughts run absolutely rampant—with the speed of technology as it is, I can swim through 18 websites in under a minute. This allows me to develop dozens of perspectives in a short amount of time, most of which aren’t useful.

But sitting here, my thoughts seem to travel at a normal pace, a pace that is manageable in the sense that I can actually observe them as they happen.

As I take my eyes around the big Florida room, I wonder how much of my life I will have spent opting out of my entire spectrum of peripheral vision to narrow my field of site to a four-inch screen in my lap?

And am I really as connected to all these people as I think I am? Or is my technology a way of demanding and keeping track of other people, and comparing myself to what I find?

Is my access to information really making me enlightened, or is it just helping me be judgmental?

I decide the nature of these questions is rhetorical, and resolve to come back to them another day, if I decide to come back to them at all.

A few more moments of perfection and my feet are shredding their skin off. The floor is a semi-decent pumice stone until it becomes tile, which it does after one step, two step, floor.

I’ve forgotten about the phone until I yank the towel up, and there is no jolt inside of me that prompts me to pick it up. Somehow, this is hilarious.

I gather all of my things and arrange them in my hands accordingly so I can still use my phone comfortably—a habit that is so nuanced and automatic that I don’t even realize I am doing it until I have unlocked my screen and start a text message.

I have been effortlessly guided away from myself and into my phone. I text Oli-face about the older gentleman instead of the rude pool lady: the story is just the placeholder; the technology is the point.

It’s actually only after I press send that I realize I am using my phone at all.

This is how deep it runs.

I never claimed to be evolved.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: garryknight/Flickr.

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