On Being Computer-less

Much is being made about the changes in form of social interaction since the advent of cell phones, texting, and social media on the internet. “They don’t know how to talk to one another! They sit at the same lunch table and instead of chatting, they text! Nothing is considered private! Do they really think people are interested to know their every move, every moment of the day, as they tweet their locations in the mall?”

“They”, of course, are younger people, not “us” – not people who are old enough to have lived before cell phones and – oh my god – before the internet! A few of us are even old enough to have experienced a world in which not every household had a phone – or if there was a phone it was on a party line, with a different ring for each of as many as six families, and an etiquette for not tying up the line (i.e. only short talks about immediate necessities).

So how is it that one of the “us” – I – have come to feel so disconnected when my laptop (I have advanced from a bulky desk computer, but do not have a smart phone nor a ‘connected’ notepad) is gone for two days to be repaired? Suddenly, I cannot readily work on my novel-in-progress, complete the job search required by my unemployed status, know what is happening with former United World College students now scattered around the world, communicate easily with professional acquaintances, nor ‘talk’ (via Skype) with distant friends. I have thought of my life as consciously ‘disconnected’ to the extent that I do not shop on line, my finances remain in my physical hands (in the form of cash and checks), and I scrupulously avoid any sort of ‘automatic’ interaction with my bank accounts except for those government programs which demand the use of electronic deposits. How can I have nonetheless become so internet-access dependent?

I live in the epitome of rural America, where only dial-up internet access was available as recently as three years ago. Now there is satellite and – within the past six months – phone company-provided DSL has reached my home,though it is not yet available two miles farther up the road from town. I recall raging at the mechanical voices telling me, as I waited on hold for a person to speak to, that I could access my account on line at www… The customer service person who ‘got’ me inevitably was told to report to the higher ups that “there are a lot of us who live were we don’t have internet access, and it’s aggravating to have to listen to recordings telling us to use an option that doesn’t exist”!

Over the years I’ve collected enough points on a credit card to ‘purchase’ a tablet. It just arrived – and guess who is learning to use it to check the email and websites I’m expected to access daily? I still can’t store data, work on my manuscript, keep my accounts or job log up to date – but I can at least respond to critical, time sensitive messages with a stupidly slow two finger poke-type typing. I’ve gone shopping for a new laptop, in case my present one needs more expensive repair than it is worth, a highly probable outcome, given our throw away economy. As I search, I find that everything I most dislike about my new tablet is virtually all that is available on new computers – Windows 8.

It’s the equivalent, for lazy surfers, of the only gear shifts available on new cars – sloppy excuses for the tight, single engage point, hang-on-a-hill-using-just-the-clutch transmissions on which those of us with a little age and experience learned to drive… gasp … back before there were automatic transmissions! We also learned to type before there were electric machines! We’re really old!

So what, you ask, am I writing on, to complete this essay, if I do not have a computer? No, not an old fashioned electric typewriter, though I have one of those – I even have a standard, non-electric, dings-when-you-come-to-the-end-of-a-line, manual-carriage-return machine like the one I originally learned on in typing class, in high school. No, I’m writing on an AlphaSmart Neo – three double A batteries last about 900 hours of use of a keyboard as lightweight as the slimmest of tablets, with eight separate memory files, simple editing and correction commands, and ability to cut and paste, and to link to a computer to transfer documents for printing or transmitting. It’s the ultimate in flexible, go anywhere technology designed for a writer!

When will the techies discover the world of people who mourn the loss of the tools of typing, who are appalled by the concept of devices and software designed exclusively for those who want to ‘swipe’ their way through life? When will they remember that there are writers who don’t feel the need to be instantly connected to anything and everything – people who still turn off the phone and silence the doorbell in order to focus and work uninterrupted, unconnected? When will they remember that there are people who choose to live in places not yet wired to the rest of the world?

I’m set. I can check email with the tablet, write on the Neo, and hunt for a replacement laptop that still comes with Windows 7, though my choices are apt to be quite limited. I’m set for this go around. I don’t know what I’ll do when, too few years in the future, I yet again have to get a new laptop. Oh, I know – by then equipment will respond to my thoughts and I won’t need my fingers to type! After all, monkeys with electrodes in their brains already use thought (or desire?) to control mechanical arms that reach for food. Can automatic computer writing be far behind?

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4 Responses to “On Being Computer-less”

  1. ann garcia Says:

    Niki has always been a class act. Her words are thoughtfully and creatively crafted, her ideas zinging with life!

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