Besides being Pasta Day (Gluten Free), Wednesday is now ‘No Technology Day” for us. I decided that yesterday in the early morning hours when I realized that I turn on my laptop every single day. Not a day goes by that I am not ‘hooked up’ – not to use Facebook, not to do emails, but to research and write and sometimes watch movies on YouTube. After all, even doctors and lawyers take Wednesday off to play golf – so why not me?
What ever happened to good old pen and paper? The regular post mail? Print books and magazines? Ordinary to-do lists? Why are my journal entries so erratic and all over the place (I have two laptops and a tablet)? What is all this EMF doing to me? Is there really such a thing as “better living with technology”, or is it just an illusion?
I attempted to find out.
The first thing I did was to get my head around the idea by pulling out my paper journal and dialoguing with myself. Julia Cameron in her book, The Right to Write calls it the “morning papers” and I used to do this without fail years before I had a PC at home. It’s amazing how much garbage comes to the forefront of your mind when you allow it full reign – grocery lists, calls to make, chores to do, memories and connections to those forgotten bits floating around inside your head. It’s really rather cathartic, although it can be disturbing – which is probably why I don’t journalize that much anymore. At this age, I don’t want to dwell on things I can no longer do or missed opportunities that will not come again.
I wrote eight 5×7” sized pages in longhand while my mother ate breakfast. I saw her stop to watch me write several times, but it was probably less disruptive to her than if I had sat at the table with my laptop open. I recall how in the 1990’s when I was on an engagement at Simon & Schuster, the executives would walk past our office filled with consultants at their computers and wonder what we did all day. We wrote manuals and reports and created diagrams, flowcharts and presentations, but somehow the new technology was still mysterious to the onlooker. I’m sure they thought we should somehow be more involved.
I was having such a good time that I had to force myself to stop and get on with my day. I truly believe I have some form of ADD or ADHD because I can go for hours without looking up from a project I’m enjoying, but on the flip side, I can also start and stop and dart around like a chicken with my head cut off! I reasoned it was like being on a diet – a technology diet – and I had to stick to my guns.
Several times during the morning I had an idea which, normally, I would look up online or go to one of my digital documents. In order to stop myself from doing this, I took a Post-It and jotted down my thoughts. That way it didn’t have to become a bona-fide part of my journal and I could just grab the shopping list or idea for an article, etc. when I needed it. I began to find the book was a catalog of things that I didn’t even know were cluttering up my mind. Measurements and creative ideas vied for my attention the way students who know the answer wave their arms wildly to get a teacher’s attention.
One by one I ticked off things I accomplished like the thank you notes for gifts recently received, clearing out the cedar closet, and taking inventory of my kitchen cabinets. I even had time to take a short nap in the afternoon and though I didn’t sleep, it was incredibly relaxing. I felt more organized and less frazzled. This was the way I felt when I was working and knew precisely what was required of me and when. How had I lost that way of operating since retiring? It was as though everything had slowed down enough to let me catch up.
I found a recipe in a cookbook rather than searching for one online. Heck, I must have a hundred of the best cookbooks in print and even though I can whip things up from memory, sometimes I like to see how other people put together their meals. The microwave was off limits too, so everything I prepared during the day was on the stove and in the oven. I began to think about growing my own herbs in pots on the windowsill and starting a compost pile. Amazing how one thought leads to another! I just jotted it in my book.
After dinner my mother is generally quite tired, but I like to sit up and spend a bit of time with her before bed. Sometimes we put M*A*S*H on the TV because it makes me laugh, and then she laughs at me, and a good time is had by all. Since television was verboten, I asked if she wanted me to read aloud to her. Usually she says no, which she did at first, but then I said it was a “no technology day” and she changed her mind. I scouted the bookshelf. Jane Austen-no; Poetry by the Brownings-no; Gone With the Wind-surely not. What could I read to her? Most of my books were reference books and biographies. Then my eye caught a thin little volume: Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I hadn’t read it in decades.
We sat at the kitchen table with the radio off for a good hour, until the part where Jonathan decides to go back to the flock. I changed my voice for the different characters, just like when you read to a child. She heard every word I said and was smiling and really enjoying our time together. “Let’s save the rest for tomorrow,” Mom said to me, and I was reminded of all those bedtime stories she read to my sister Andrea and me and how it was my favorite part of the day. I always liked to stop before the end so that there would be something to look forward to. Maybe that’s what she was unconsciously doing: She liked the idea of something good happening in the future.
I’ll have to find some more easy-to-understand stories, perhaps some classics written for young adults. But I’ll have to do it on a day when I’m allowed to use my laptop.