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Friday, January 23, 2015

Smart Phones, Photos, and the Struggle to Live in the Moment

My smart phone (um, my only phone) died very suddenly last weekend, resulting in the loss of quite a few photos and other sundry digital memories. This was especially upsetting because it happened with almost no warning. No chance to save my data. No last second to run back into my burning house (of pixels) and grab my prized possessions, i.e. all the adorable pics of my one-year old and his newborn brother.

Needless to say, I was pissed. At technology, for betraying me like that. At myself, for not creating redundancies and saving my data in multiple locations. At society, for normalizing digital photos to the point that 35mm film is archaic.

Once the dust settled and I wept pathetically over my lost photographic memories, a few epiphanies hit me:

1. It could be worse. Seriously. I lost my phone, not my pinkie toe. Buck up, I told myself, and get over it. There are still starving people in Africa (AND America), so how dare I cry over what is basically a sentimental inconvenience?

2. I must print more photos. Letting them linger, either on my phone or in the cloud, somehow makes them less real... and infinitely more vulnerable to destruction. What can kill a paper photo? Fire, water, theft. That's about it. What can kill a digital photo? Almost anything. Accidental deletion, new online data storage limits, or simply changing technology itself.

Thirty years ago VHS was the pinnacle of modern tech. Fifteen years ago the DVD was unparalleled. Now both are passe, usurped by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. In another ten years, who knows what will be next? Meanwhile, we still hang family portraits on our walls. We still cherish old faded polaroids. Bottom line: Humans are tactile beings. We like to hold things in our hands. Printed photos will never go out of style.

3. Are smart phones murdering our artistic energy? Are they plowing over and polluting the empty fields in our minds where wild beauty would grow, if left alone? If my phone kills the many seeds of boredom before they have a chance to take root and flower into creativity, am I shooting myself in the foot, artistically speaking? How many poems go unwritten, problems go unsolved, questions go unasked, prayers go unspoken--all because we distract ourselves with instant, endless handheld entertainment?

Related: I read an article recently about how some CEOs of major tech companies take smart phone "holidays." A chance, short or long, to literally unplug. Some turn off their phones for an hour before bed each night, some during a dinner out, some for a weekend ski trip, some for days or weeks at a time just because.

I really ought to build in detox time, I thought. Like those screen-free Sabbaths some of my friends observe. Only I'd ideally make it longer (a week if possible). Why? Preservation of what I call the sanctity of the present moment. Try it sometime. For me, it takes at least a day just to stop reaching for my phone every hour, to check email or texts or weather or social media or whatever. Perhaps most alarming, I did even notice I was doing it so often... until I was forced to go two days with no phone at all.

So... am I being a technophobe? Am I zooming in on modern smart phones and blowing this whole thing way out of proportion? I don't think so. But perhaps we should ask a more basic question: Is technology evil? No. In many ways it's a wonderful and powerful tool, even life-saving in some cases. But like anything with such potential, it can be abused. It can breed addiction. A cure can be corrupted into a cancer. A miracle drug, in the wrong doses, can eat you alive from the inside out.

Here's hoping technology will never eviscerate our lives, our arts, our experiences. May we always be ready and even eager to detox... to unplug our phones for the sake of renewing our spirits.

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