Thursday, November 1, 2012

Getting Unplugged: Why Technology Sometimes Sucks

One of my favorite things about flying is that I can't be reached. No emails, no phone calls, no harassment, or at least that's how it used to be. A trip on a plane used to provide me with some peace and quiet, and it forced me to find something else to do without being connected. I used to be perfectly content working on a Hemispheres magazine Sudoku puzzle or looking out of the airplane window. Now I find myself getting increasingly annoyed if my seat on the plane doesn't have a power outlet.

I'm not sure what happened but I think it started when I got an iPhone. I was a late adopter of the whole smart phone craze, as I didn't understand the perceived need for it; that is until I got my first 3GS. It was fun. I now had a source of endless entertainment in the palm of my hand. Before I knew it I was texting at the table just like everyone else and occasionally ignoring my kid to check emails. I've even taken my phone to the beach. Lame, I know.

I was actually proud of myself the first time I checked into foursquare via gogo and earned a special badge for it. Instead of using the 5 hour trans-con flight to catch up on sleep like I probably should have, I wasted almost $7 to see what someone I haven't talked to since high school posted on Facebook. I was so busy playing with my phone that I almost forgot to look out the window. When I finally did we were already over Nevada and it was dark out. I then watched as lightning from a distant thunderstorm lit up a cluster of cumulonimbus clouds probably a hundred miles away. There was a flash, then another one and more clouds joined the show until it seemed like the whole sky was illuminated. It was absolutely beautiful and I had almost missed it. Even then I still didn't get it.

Joining the Mile High Club
It wasn't until my latest trip (SMF-LAX-IAH-ABQ-IAH-LAX-SMF) that I had an epiphany of sorts and realized for the first time that maybe my priorities are a little messed up. I got so caught up making sure I had all the right chargers and cables for my cell phone, e-reader and other gadgets, that I forgot a memory card for my camera, so instead of looking out the window and taking pictures for, I ended up reading. Coincidentally, there was a very interesting series in this month's Conde Nast Traveler about getting off the grid. The first part was about people who spend lots and lots of money to go camping in the woods and stay at eco-lodges that don't have wifi or wireless data signals. At first I thought, "Who the hell would want to do that?", staring at the screen of my brand new kindle fire HD. I then read the article, Brain Drain: Why Being a Tech Junkie is Bad for Your Health. That one hit a little closer to home, especially the parts about memory loss and attention deficit, and I admit they kind of nailed me on some of the tech-enabled antisocial behavioral stuff. It was a good wake-up call. Luckily the series also included Rx for a Digital Detox with helpful tips like leaving your phone at home- advice to take seriously and something we all need to do more often.

I guess the first step towards any recovery is admitting there's a problem, and for the first time I feel that maybe there is. I want my old life back. I don't want to miss out on anymore. I want to spend more time with my baby and less time online. I don't want to suffer from anxiety if someone takes my phone away or get kicked off a flight for playing Words with Friends. I want to spend more time looking out the window, and less time being hypnotized by gadgets. While I'm not about to throw my phone away, give up my computer, or ditch my kindle in favor of 10 lbs. of paper magazines, I've come to better appreciate there is a time and place for all that stuff.

I think by now everyone knows that cell phones really don't make planes crash, but let's continue to pretend they do. It's only a matter of time before the FAA re-examines their ban on wireless communication and we all curse the day after getting stuck next to the loud cell phone talker for 4 hours. Let's learn to enjoy the time we have left, where 30,000 feet is still one place we can't be reached. As for wifi on the plane, I'm starting to think it's overrated. That gogo enabled p.s. flight I took back in September was one of the least relaxing I've ever had. For the first time I'm almost grateful that my airline of choice United is still blissfully stuck back in the 20th century when it comes to wiring up their aircraft. Anyway, I fly again this week. I'm off to Manila, via the Island Hopper (HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM). Even if there was wifi on the plane it wouldn't work because where I'm headed truly is the middle of nowhere. I'm actually looking forward to clearing my mind, going off the grid for few days and you better believe that this time I won't be forgetting my camera!

Additional reading: Goodnight Ipad by Ann Droyd (the hardcover version)


  1. Thank you! I like yours too ;) Cheers!

  2. I really enjoy your blog. I am going to give copy of this article to some of my friends and to my wife. Who watches your child when you are on MR- Mr. Singh

  3. Thanks for reading! My husband usually watches our kid when I'm away- it's a great chance for some quality father-son bonding time!