Essays on Technology and Culture

“Going Analog” and Finding the Balance

We’ve only been in an “always on” world for a handful of years, and we’re still figuring out the limits of what amount of technology in our life is good for us. Not just how much technology we should use, but when and where. Ellis Hamburger’s “We are all Glassholes Now” captures one area of our attempts to figure out this relationship, in terms of taking photos at concerts.

In this new world of hyper-documentation we’ll have to figure out what feels right and what doesn’t — new etiquettes and customs and mores. These new norms will focus on utility and also social acceptance.

Since seeing the band Savages last year, I’ve been trying to obsess less about documenting concerts, so as to be in the moment, but the debate expands far beyond just holding up a screen at a concert. When we pick up a pen and a notebook to write, or we play the “Phone Stack” game at dinner, we make a conscious choice to define the terms on which we use our technology. Even something as simple as “no computers or smartphones” in the bedroom is a powerful dividing line in establishing a limit in our technological relationships.

I don’t think this is a new pattern. Certain people, people like us—nerds—think about this stuff a lot. The why they think about it part varies. Maybe they get paid to do it, or maybe they’re just the kind of person who easily gets obsessed with new shiny gizmos. Or both. We’re the early-adopter types, and when things get too much, we’ll be the first to try something else. And tell the world about it. It’s easy for us to throw our lives out of balance because we’re so addicted to whatever glowing, buzzing, shiny thing is next on the must-have list. After a while, self-realization kicks in, and we try to change something.

As much as we grumble about the amount of time we spend on Facebook, the piles of apps we never use on our smartphones, or how our iPad apps aren’t being updated, we know there’s some utility to the technological things in our lives. Facebook keeps us in touch with our family and friends we never get to see. The one random app on our Smartphone comes in handy about once every blue moon. Our iPad replaces our television. It takes time for us to figure it out what these things are for, and even longer to figure out why.

When I see people in my circles talk about “going analog,” I don’t see it as rejecting technology. I see it as self-regulation. If you can’t handle infinity in your pocket, try leaving infinity in your desk drawer and locking it. If you can’t get your writing done on a computer, whip out a pen and paper. As we figure out what all these things are for, and redefine our relationship to our gadgets and the network they connect us to, we find our own balance again. We cut the trail that the people behind us, the new adopters, walking down the street glued to their screen will eventually follow.