Sunday, January 6, 2008

Don't Hook Me Up

JetBlue is now offering WiFi on some of their flights. This means that, assuming you have a laptop, PDA or an expensive cell phone, you can now check your email, browse the internet, etc. while in flight.

I love technology. I live online. I shop online, get my news online, take classes online, (obviously) blog, pay my bills online, invest online, email, IM, send pictures, watch episodes of House online, listen to music, shiurim etc. online. I have a desktop and two laptops. I also carry a cell phone. Actually, I carry two (used to be three), one for work and one for personal use. I'm a real twenty-first century kinda girl. But when I am in an airplane, I want to be suspended in 1992. When I fly, I use that time to read, to crochet, to doze, to relax, and to chat with my travel companion (if I have one). I don't even like to watch tv or a movie when I fly. For four or five hours, I just want to unplug. Is that asking too much? Call it a little "Shabbat-like" break from technology, just for a tiny portion of the day. I don't want anyone to call me, IM me, text me, or email me while I fly. No matter what it is, it can wait until I land.

My last refuge of technology-free time is slowly being taken away from me. Yes, I know, it's my choice of whether to plug-in or not, and I can just not use my cell phone and laptop when I fly. But you know that if the option is there, eventually I will use it, whether compelled by forces of work-guilt, or keep-in-touch-guilt or just plain wanna-be-part-of-the-crowd pressure.

I remember when I got my first cell phone in 1996. I was traveling on a month-long cross-country roadtrip vacation with a girlfriend, and we both got cell phones for safety purposes. My cell phone was about the size of a Bass loafer (Get Smart, anyone?). I remember vowing that as soon as we returned from the trip, I would get rid of the cell phone. I found it intrusive. I was perpetually worried about losing it. For some reason, it bothered me to always be reachable. Can't there be a period of time when I am just not reachable?

Here I am, 11 years later. My $600 Iphone is a lot sleeker looking than my first clunky cell phone, and it takes great digital pictures, plays music, and I can get my email and browse the internet. Who knew? I never thought I'd own something cooler than Captain Kirk's communicator. And yet, with all my love for technology, my cell phone makes me feel less free, more tethered and weighted down. I am always nervous when I can't find it, even for a few minutes, since I can't afford another one (even at the current "cheap" price of $400) and my whole life is inside that thing, contacts, etc. For some reason, I always need to be connected and reachable, whether it's by work or my siblings, or my Mom, or my friends. My friends actually get annoyed when they can't reach me for an hour ("where were you?"), and my boss once asked me to take the cell phone into the ladies room with me (I just said no). When I go into a movie theater or lecture, I turn the cell phone to vibrate instead of just off. I recently visited a male friend and when I went to use his bathroom, I saw that he had a metal folding chair in front of the toilet. I asked him what it was for, and he answered (sheepishly), "my laptop."

We are the generation of instant gratification and hyper-connectivity. It's an old story. Technology does free us and make our lives easier, and believe me, I love gadgets and online everything, and the way technology has enriched my life. But it has also encroached upon my private time, the time I just want to walk to the newsstand and not talk to anyone, to curl up on the couch with a book and a cuppa coffee, and to fly in an airplane and daydream about nothing. We all need a little time to untether ourselves, unplug, and unleash, to reconnect by disconnecting.

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