Flight of the Vajra: Always In Touch Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012-03-12 14:00:00 No comments

I spent most of last Thursday without access to the 'net. I know, I know — shock, horror, gasp, you name it. Okay, I wasn't completely without access — I had a phone with a 3G data connection, which I used at one point to do some Google Maps lookups.

Let me rephrase, then: I was shirking 'net access. I had access; I just chose not to do anything with it, because I had more important things I wanted to fill my time with for that one day. As much as I enjoy technology — hey, I wouldn't have the job(s) I do if I didn't, and I sure as heck wouldn't be posting here with the vigor I do — there are days and nights when a stroll around town, or a few hours with someone over dinner with no digital intermediaries between us, is a lot more appealing than yet another blog post.

Don't worry. I'm not about to write some fulminatory screed about how technology is destroying simple honest human interaction; you've got Jonathan Franzen to do that job for you (many times over). Instead, consider this: What convinces us that we need to have at least some of our lives lived outside of the envelope of perpetual connectivity?

Being always in touch is great as long as you're the only one doing it. It's great when you're the one consuming that connectivity. It's not so great when you're being badgered every ten seconds by reminders, tweet notifications, pings and push messages. What few people want to realize is their activity — the act of consuming, the stuff they enjoy doing because it's happening on their terms and at their behest — automatically creates a flipside. Every casual tweet, every shared link, contributes that much more to whatever someone else has to wade through to get "caught up". That's part of why I try to keep that sort of thing to a minimum, myself: the last thing I want to do is unthinkingly pollute someone else's cyber-noösphere, or whatever the heck we would call it, with fourteen posts about lunch.

It helps to live at least partly outside of such a noösphere. It isn't just for the sake of all those folks who don't touch Facebook (god bless their souls) or have access to a computer maybe once a week if they're lucky, although I'll be happy to mention them first. It always helps to assume some of us are not part of that grid to any major extent (or at all), do not want to be part of such a thing, and already have a passel of better things to do with the time that would be taken up by plugging themselves in.

In short, for them, it's about priorities, and priorities are private. You win no awards lecturing someone else about what they need to be doing, but if you know your time is better spent on a hiking trail (without a phone) than parked in front of a computer getting caught up on your cat video allotment, no one will talk you out of it.

A personal f'rinstance: I more or less gave up video games and TV so I could make the time I needed to get my writing done.* I'm always worried that when I tell other people about this bit of housecleaning, they will misinterpret it as some kind of finger-waggling diktat: TV AND GAMES ROT YOUR BRAIN SO ANYONE CALLING THEMSELVES A "WRITER" BETTER KNOCK OFF WITH THAT CRAP. Well, no: in no way do I insist that other people make my time management strategies into theirs. I just saw how one less hour of boggle-boxing a day would mean another thousand words a day (or more), which would mean at least one more full-length work a year (or more). Fair trade, if you ask me.

The way I see it, the only things that keep any of us outside of that envelope of constant communication are personal things, things we cultivate that stand quite deliberately apart from that envelope. As more of what we do becomes subsumed into that envelope from the git-go, it becomes all the more important to imagine at least some of our lives as being outside of it — not for the sake of inconveniencing ourselves, but just for the sake of knowing something else is indeed possible.

Vajra has both of these elements: the envelope of constant technological contact, and the awareness that there needs to be something else outside of it for life to be really meaningful. It's the second part that has the most significance in the story, actually. There's any number of SF stories about some gizmo, but not as many about the sense of how that changes the quality of your life — and what could be done about it, and where that would lead.

* And I know full well that means I'm that much less on top of what's current than most other people. No Glee, no Community, no Dexter, no Game of Thrones — but I have a half-substitute: I let my friends get caught up on those things and then fill my ear about them. Maybe one day when I'm not working the equivalent of three jobs and my spare time is a little less brutally rationed out I'll have a different attitude about it all. But right now: priorities. TV isn't one of them.

Tags: Flight of the Vajra Internet technology