On returning to the World, I soon found that a cell phone was so much cheaper than a landline, I opted for a flip phone. I managed to go another two years without learning how to do more than answer it.
My avoidance of phones tracks back to my early years, when I was the shyest person on earth. I went for years without answering the family phone: it horrified me. I never got over the dread of picking up the phone, either to answer it, or, god forbid, to make a call myself. Even now, when I know and like the person on the other end, I put off calling. I can't explain it.
I'm not a Luddite: I embraced the internet as soon as it was viable and starting working online in 2000. I can do pretty much what I like with a computer, and even wrote a teensy bit of code back when WYSIWYG website builders were less advanced and knowing how to change the color of a background in html put you ahead of the game.
But I'm bored with technology, and have been for some time. It's a tremendous amount of time-eating work just keeping apps updated. Word, for example, was once easy to use and could do anything any reasonable person would want (except Mail Merge, which never did work right.) Now, Word is a freaking mess, with a zillion sub-menus and very little intuitive organization. They've ruined it, with all those stupid updated versions.
I love using computers, but I want to use the tools, not spend my whole life maintaining them. And I subscribe to the conspiracy theory that software companies are colluding to keep us online by making constant interaction with technology a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
So now a computer is also a phone. Crap! I don't want a smartphone because I will certainly leave it on a bus every single week. I don't want to carry around something I'm always worried about losing. I don't actually want the internet at my fingertips 24/7. I want to feel my life without distraction, without the chronic, unnecessary multitasking that accompanies technology. I don't want to hear my pants ring. Or yours either.
There are downsides. For me, the downside of eschewing the smartphone is that I don't have a decent camera. I might get a phone so I can take pictures that look like the things in them. I can't think of another downside, although nearly everyone I know has an opinion on that.
Given that I don't like phones, apps or calling, I'm fascinated with texting. I don't like texting either, btw, because my flip phone has wee little keys and because I can't figure out how to get the zero to work in numbers. I have to use the letter 'O'. Also, my close vision is lousy, so I can't really see what I'm texting, and I make alot of mistakes, which I have to go back, laboriously, and fix. Also, I am a wordy creature and the bullshit physical limitations of the fliphone reduce me to mute frustration. God, it's just a bore.
But today, I sent an unnecessary text to my housemate Paul. I was watching a purple finch, which flew away from the feeder to the fence when the greedy neighbor squirrel approached. The finch was clearly, volubly, scolding the squirrel, and the squirrel was clearly, demonstrably intimidated. He would clamber close to the feeder, but he kept watching the little bird, and he didn't attempt the feeder. He was taking the threat seriously. Perhaps he'd been pecked on the head before. After some minutes of the one-sided altercation, he edged discreetly away, and slipped up the fence to next door.
And I sent a text to Paul, much abbreviated, to tell the story of the feeder, which he keeps stocked for the birds and the squirrels, too.
When I did that, I had a sudden idea about texting. It both limits and creates intimacy.
Who among us hasn't texted instead of calling with unwelcome news? Or texted because we know we should be talking in person, but for whatever reason, can't bear the immediacy of the voice? It's ideal for noncommittal relationships, or for expressing a feeling that isn't strong enough to follow with action.
An example: I text you to invite you to coffee after I'm sitting at the cafe. I'm 99% sure you won't get the text in time to make it, but I feel I get some points for expressing a wish to have coffee with you, without actually having to do it. And you, assuming you DO get the text in plenty of time to dash to the cafe, are perfectly free to claim you didn't and say, "Oh, too bad! Well, maybe next time."
So texting allows us to pretend to things we don't really desire, while creating an illusory relational interchange--and that's kind of interesting.
But there's more. As in the case of my texting Paul and having a short, pleasant interchange about the struggle for dominance in our back yard, texting can allow you to reach out to someone you don't know very well in what can be a very intimate space--the sharing of a brief thought, a moment that strikes us as charming--or possibly important. In this way, it could potentially build connection between near-strangers. It doesn't have to, but it could.
Texting gives the individual the freedom to reach out, to connect or be absent when the other "calls". So it feeds our childish desire for control. The flipside is, if we get addicted to that feeling of being in control, we wind up giving up our control because of the felt need to constantly check the phone, to see what we may be controlling next.
It's like the question that goes, "Could God make a world so large he can't lift it?" For humans the answer is yes, of course. We constantly create things that we are then incapable of managing. Pollution is the perfect example. Technology is another. The very thing we initially tell ourselves (or each other) could free us, enslaves us.
But it isn't the thing that's to blame; it's us! Human beings go to extremes. We think more is better, faster is better. We're kinda dumb that way. The whole world is shouting at us to slow down, to think smarter rather than faster. But we're just children in the universe. We don't know how to stop ourselves from wanting the whole candy store, long after the stomachaches begin.
I have hope for us, though. The whole cell phone thing is just a long track from what human beings still need--a real connection. Enduring friendships, a safe place to speak and be heard. We are alienated, but spend billions a year staying available to each other. Why else would we do that, unless we are, however unsuccessfully, trying to fill a great need? A hunger to know and be known?
We've never been closer together or farther apart. I think we are inching our way to an understanding of what we need, as opposed to what we think we want. I like to think that.
The finch can shout at a squirrel and right now, several sparrows and a hefty blue jay are discussing their rights to access the feeder. The small back yard is filled with chatter and song.
As much as we can, we are making our songs, and singing them to each other. Our vocabulary is limited by our complicated technologies.
But we need the poetry of a 6-word text that means, "I saw this great thing in the world and want to share it with you." And there is a certain brief joy in the little thumbs-up emoji arriving seconds later, that means, "I like you, too."