Don’t hate the technology, hate the user

By Lisa Sugarman

So what’s the best way to say this without sounding like an ass? I guess ripping the Band-Aid right off is probably the way to go.

I. Hate. Mobile. Technology.

Ok, I know, that was harsh. And slightly hypocritical. I’m sorry. I guess what I really mean is that I love it, but I hate it at the same time. It’s a lot like how I feel about Shaun T, the crazy fitness trainer who leads my Insanity workouts. I love him for what he does for me, but I hate him for how he does it.

Look, I have a husband who works in mobility, so I’ve got all kinds of mobile technology raining down on me like the monsoons in Asia. It’s unrelenting. And while I don’t want to sound ungrateful for all these neat little toys, the irony is, if I had my way I’d still be using a rotary phone and a Marblehead Savings Bank pocket calendar to manage my life. I’m just a simple girl who likes simple things. Sadly, though, those days of hearing an actual busy signal are gone and I’ve been pushed into the smartphone pool head first. And while I will admit that after some soaking, I did adjust to the water quite nicely, I still have a lot of nostalgia for the good ol’ days, when the toughest thing about making a phone call was getting the accordion door on the payphone booth to stay shut.

I really do get all the benefits of having so much functionality packed neatly into my back pocket at all times. I do. It’s almost like having an RV without the wheels—I’ve always got everything I need to sustain me right there whenever I need it, with the exception of running water and the ability to fix myself a ham sandwich. The main thing I guess I struggle with is the intrusion factor of it all. And for me, that’s an obstacle I’m not sure I’ll ever get over. Because they’re everywhere. All the time.

Our phones have become like another appendage, almost like another child even, when you think about it. We take them with us everywhere, we try to find the cutest ways to dress them up, we’re so proud of what they can do, we feel hollow and unsettled whenever we have to leave them behind, we focus most of our energy on ensuring their safety and well-being. I mean God forbid it falls, right?

Think about it, we wake up and we check our phone. We step away from our desk for any length of time (and I’m talking even seconds), we check our phone. We need to check our calendar, we reach for our phone. We want to call someone, where’s my cell? We need to snap a photo (and then immediately upload it to Facebook), camera’s in the phone. We need to look up the word ‘quixotic,’ we use the app … on our phone. That sense of instantaneous connectivity has been embedded in us, embedded in our kids. But I’m not so sure that’s such a great thing.

Because if you look closely, it looks an awful lot like smartphones are photo bombing all of our lives a little more every day. They’re part of everything now. And we’re moving further and further away from doing the simple things that used to give us all so much pleasure. Things like talking. Things like listening. Things like waiting, patiently.

People have turned paranoid that they’re missing something if they’re not connected. But the truth is, they’re missing things just by being so connected. Seems like once smartphone technology really went mainstream, so did everyone’s new compulsion to constantly check their phone every four seconds for that rogue post that snuck in under the radar. And I’m guilty of it. For sure. And it makes me crazy because I hate feeling like this dopey little plastic box in my pocket has that much control over me. Because I really don’t want it to. But it’s especially powerful when you have kids because having a cell phone, in a lot of ways, is like having an extra-long umbilical cord. So when that phone vibrates, you bet I’m all over it like white on rice to make sure they can reach me when they need me.

Dave and I have this ongoing debate about the intrusiveness of mobile technology. He sees only virtues and benefits. He thinks technology makes us better, faster, and more efficient. (He also loved the Six Million Dollar Man and all that when he was a kid, so it’s life imitating art for him.) And while I can’t deny any of those obvious benefits, my secret fantasy is really to drop every device in my house into a steel box and bury it in the Badlands. But that comes from my simple opinion that too much of a good thing almost always becomes a bad thing.

My fear is that we’re becoming more and more reliant on these things every day and less and less capable of living without them. It’s like when my kids are trying to reach a friend to make plans and their friend doesn’t respond to their text right away. That stops them cold. They truly don’t know how to react. And when I suggest picking up the phone and just calling, I get the “pfffffft,” and then they slam their bedroom door. And I know that that’s because I grew up lying upside down against my bedroom door talking to my friends on the phone. Real voices. Real conversations. But that was my generation, not theirs.

So while I get why we’re moving in the direction we’re moving, I just don’t want to see us devolve any more than we already have. Remember, retro is in for a reason. Because deep down, we all have a fondness for the good old days. So do me a favor, the next time you grab your cell to text me, gimme a call instead, for old time’s sake. I promise I’ll answer.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at OR read her blog at


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