Times Have Changed – Technology’s Effects on the "Good Old Days" — a Long and Wandering Rant About My Modern Life

I went to visit my son on Wednesday – spent the day with him in his first apartment. It took me back a few years. I had a lovely time, and it will help keep me from worrying about him for… uh… a couple hours at least.

Then, I went by to spend a bit of time with my Grandmother. I’ve made a decision this year that I’m going to spend more time with the people I love and spend less time in front of the computer. Life is good, business is booming and it’s time to quit working 18 hours a day, and to have REGULAR BUSINESS HOURS.

Now, I know I’ve been preaching this for years, but as usual, I’m terrible at taking my own advice. So, this year, I’ve started. And…

It’s nice.

But something that surprised me is that I can’t let go of the stuff I do even when I’m visiting others. I’m always ALWAYS thinking about the communication end of things, the technology and how that all melds with marketing and getting the word out.

Case in point… my grandmother was telling me how people used to visit more. We talked about Nicholas’ first apartment. I told her that it was tiny and cute in that slummy sort of way that all first apartments are. I told her about my own first apartment and how much I loved it (and how it was demolished a few years after I left as unsafe). Ahhhh those were the days!

Like Nicholas, I was happy as a lark in a place of my very own. I was a couple of years older than he is, and I had alot less than he does. His place is down right CUSHY compared to mine. And, I talked to Mom and Pops about how they started out. His place looks like a home in suburbia compared to their first apartment.

And, then I talked to my Mamaw.

Compared to how she and papaw started out, Nicholas’ apartment is a veritable palace… During the course of this long-overdue visit I learned a few things.

I learned that it cost $25 per year to rent their first place (a two-bedroom cabin that was so drafty and cold that the wash water would freeze in the wash pan overnight). She laughed and said that she drew water from a well and brought it in to heat it. I shared my own experiences with that — the short few weeks when I did it when I first moved to the farm, before the electric and the water pump were installed. It was a definite change from the life I’d elected to leave in the city — a three story Craftsman-styled home with hardwood floors, horsehair plaster walls and “character” — not to mention reliable utilities. But, I was hungry for my new lifestyle and the choices I’d made to start coming to fruition.

I told her I actually enjoyed the simplicity of life then… the lack of electricity meant that I got up when it got light, I did manual labor all day, drew water from the well, cooked on a kerosene stove, heated water to bathe and wash my hair and put Alex in a sink for her baths. (At that point, Nicholas and Derrick stayed with my parents to stay in school — and because I had an “ex” that would have pitched a fit if his boys were in a place without electricity and running water).

I had enough challenges, so I just went to get the boys on the weekends. The boys loved it… they called it “Luxury camping out” every weekend. It was cute. It was enjoyable.

It was hard work, but less stress. Of course, that only went on for a few weeks for me. It was a way of life for my grandmother. It probably would have lost its charm fairly quickly if I hadn’t desperately needed the “decompress” time.

My Mamaw said I needed to learn how to stop working more often now. She said that she knew I worked too much (translation: I’ve been talking to your mother).

But the funny thing for me, is that while we were talking, I was thinking about how life has changed as a result of technology. Things must be NOW, not later. Things are “in-an-instant” or there is stress. I can’t abide a slow Internet connection for example. As a people, we aren’t patient. And, I’m the most impatient person you would probably ever meet. My Mamaw, in contrast, is extremely patient. One of her traits that apparently didn’t get passed down. Darn it!

In her life, people came by to visit. They worked hard, but when work was over… it was over, she tells me. They would talk, play games, socialize, eat together. The front porch was a central location and gathering place.

In my life, people seldom come by to visit and I hate all that’s required to go visit others — probably because I don’t have my best friends and my family right next door. To go and visit requires planning and major effort. Add to that the fact that I eat organic food (and my family and friends do not) and that complicates things more. I have to pack food to go for a daylong visit. It’s not a matter of walking next door for me. And, in my lifetime, it never has been. Not really. But I’m going to do more face-time with my family and friends this year. It’s my goal.

In my life, the central features of personal communication aren’t usually in person. I communicate by email, by phone (both land and cell), IM, voice IM and yes, even by snail mail. My best friends talk to me more by these digital and paper means than we ever do face-to-face.

I only see one of my best buds every couple years — she lives several states away — but we talk almost daily. My Mamaw thought that was odd. It seems natural to me.

So for my grandmother to tell me that I need to let go of all that technology and to leave work at work… well, I don’t know that I can. I want to simplify (so long as I can do it by taking all the stuff I want and need in a smaller, cooler, easier to transport tiny package), but letting go of all my gadgets… I just dunno about that.

Could I do it? Sure. But it would require concentration and effort. I think it would be an “all or nothing” thing for me. Kinda like smoking was a few years ago. I can’t “cut back” — I had to quit, cold turkey… and never EVER pick up that ‘just one’ — because I know I’m weak. I like my addictions.

I could survive without a computer, a Treo, an iPod, a Tablet PC, my blog, my websites, my business (if someone would feed me)… but I couldn’t and wouldn’t even try to live without a way to write. I’d have to have paper and a pencil. Of course, I’d prefer nice paper — well bound and acid free — preferably in a leather cover and an excellent rollerball that never skipped with an unending supply of ink refills. I like my tools to be as enjoyable to touch and use as possible. I don’t like lots of “stuff” — and I despise clutter and knickknacks. but I do like the best of what I consider essential. I find beauty and joy in well-crafted tools (in the office, the kitchen and the workshop).

But I could survive with a sharp pencil and a pad of paper.

I wonder if I’d find the time to enjoy the simple things again. I wonder if I can trade down some without trading it all away…

Maybe 2006 is the year to figure that one out. Maybe not. I think I’ll contemplate this a bit more while I go and watch the next episode of WildFire on my hubby’s iPod (now nicely positioned in a speaker/radio/alarm clock combo thingee beside our bed.)

He just asked me tonight if I wanted an iPod of my own for Valentines day. I told him YES! with such vigor he physically recoiled. Poor thing. And then he asked me how much they ran… again, poor thing… his face just fell and then got all crumpled up when I told him. He said “You are joking, right?” And then looked critically at his own beloved iPod.

He thinks my habits (my toys) are expensive… he says my thirst for technology is never quenched. He thinks I’m addicted. Go figure. (And to think, he’s not even seen the bill from iTunes for this month yet.)


But how cool would it be it to have 60 gigs of compressed music and video and podcasts in something the size of my Treo?

When, oh when will iPod’s HD space and Treo’s other functions merge for the product I’ve been waiting to see? Sigh. My personal communication, organization and entertainment center with enough space so I really CAN take it with me? All of it… a week’s worth of movies (or more) and all my books and papers and essential files… all of it. Sigh.

Well, this is a wandering rant, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s time to retire and watch that next episode now… I don’t think I’ll be leaving my “work” and technology back in the office when I’m finished for the day… at least not anytime soon.