Now there are times when a whole generation is caught in this way between two ages, two modes of life, with the consequence that it loses all power to understand itself and has no standard, no security, no simple acquiescence.”Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
I’m posting this one day late for a very good reason, which is that I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday! As a result, yesterday was a bit of a write-off with my immune system trying to figure out how to handle this new intruder but I’m feeling much better today. And so, Solidarity Monday it is!
Thus, without further ado, lets talk about technology in the pandemic, shall we?
Ah, technology. I’m not sure about you, dear reader, but as a millennial (a designation I’m still not sure about as my childhood was nothing like my brother’s who was born 6.5 years after me. But, I digress), technology has pretty much always been a part of my life.
Now, that’s not to say that it was always as dominant as it has become. I remember a time in high school when there was only one family computer and a strictly enforced time limit for its use per person. Unless you were doing homework, of course. In which case, you got an extension. But you better close those MSN conversations if Mom or Dad comes to check on your progress!
I even experienced dial-up internet, a phenomenon which seems, due to the frenzied pace of technological advancement these days, to exist more in outdated TV shows and movies than in the collective memory bank. Oh how I envy this new younger generation who will never experience the existential panic upon lifting up the home phone receiver (yes, that was a thing too) only to hear the glaring “beeeeeeep boop burrrr erk” that announced you had inadvertently – or purposely in the case of a sister who went past her online time limit – kicked one of your family members unceremoniously off the internet. And the 20 minutes it took to reconnect? Well this could make or break your chance to catch your crush on the aforementioned MSN chat! The horror.
OK, Erin, what’s your point?
My point is, technology was not always advanced as it was today. And, honestly? Despite how helpful it has been during all the voluntary and mandatory isolation of the last year, there are days when I wish I could go back to the days of dial-up and home phones.
I know. You think I’m crazy (not to mention super privileged as there are countless people in my own country who would do just about anything for a reliable internet connection). But hear me out.
At the beginning of this pandemic, I was as grateful as anyone else for the gift of high-speed internet and smart phones. I was a new mom, back at work (remotely), struggling to find my rhythm as a parent and home-owner. Knowing that my family and friends were an instantaneous e-mail, text, phone or video call away was a godsend. I do not think I could have made it through my periods of postpartum anxiety and the sheer exhaustion of the fourth trimester (not to mention the health crises I experienced, which I wrote about here) without access to this support system.
I took part in my fair share of virtual games and parties, zoom and Facebook video calls, phone dates over lunch, group chats and online events. I gleefully shared updates of my daughter’s development on snapchat and spent significantly more time socializing than I ever did when physical proximity was more of a given. And I found my own tribe of Canadian January 2020 moms online who quite literally saved my sanity during the multiple breakdowns known to so many new parents. Technology made physical isolation bearable.
And yet, soon my relationship to technology began to shift from gratefully making use of a now-essential tool to depending entirely on its existence every second of every day. I found myself playing more and more games on my phone. Checking social media every 30 minutes. Answering every text within seconds of receiving it. Getting an uncomfortable itch to pick up my phone any time a notification pinged, even if I was in the midst of reading Aria a story.
My phone went with me everywhere: on walks, to the home office when I needed to get work done or planned on writing, to Aria’s room when I put her down for sleep, and even the bathroom. Every single time. It was like a new appendage, and being apart from it for too long felt like some kind of phantom amputation.
I was hooked.
And it was just the phone either. The television was on almost all day (which has never been the case in my life). Evenings were spent checking social media for the thousandth time, reading articles on my computer, or watching episodes with Louis while simultaneously playing games on my phone.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed this new dependence, one I had never truly experienced before to this extent. Aria noticed it too, and began to request to see this object holding so much of her Mom’s attention. She started crying when I would put it away, begging in her own little way to be shown one more video, one more photo. She gamely smiled for video calls but would act shy in person, not used to the three-dimensionality of anyone aside from Louis and I.
And then I got pregnant again and horribly ill as a consequence. And it got worse. So much worse. I was now spending all day in bed, alternately watching YouTube videos about true crime, blasting through season after season of TV shows I didn’t care that much about, and crushing an embarrassing amount of levels on Homescapes. Instead of picking up a book as I had done in the past when I was stuck in bed, I dedicated myself even further to the worship of screens. Any screen would do.
But when I miscarried in December, something changed. I started to feel physically better, to be able to move around again, and I realized that the life I had been living was not a healthy one. And it was certainly not the example we wanted to set for Aria.
Gradually, we started limiting our TV time to evenings (usually after Aria had gone to bed) and weekend mornings (along the Saturday morning cartoon tradition), and never for very long. We began to leave our phones across the room with the sound on and only attending to them if someone was calling. I got an app that detailed my screen time (only on my phone) and was horrified to find I was unlocking the screen over 30 times a day on average and spent roughly 50 hours a week on my phone. 50 HOURS. This coming from the woman who found a 40 hour workweek to be too much. It was unbelievable.
So I cut back further. I decided to only check my social media in the morning, during Aria’s nap and after she was in bed (I’m still working on this). I started leaving my phone in other rooms, knowing that if something were really important, I would hear it ringing. I even deleted a few apps which had become time suckers.
And you know what? I began to feel better. Much better.
We started to get outside more, not just for walks but also to hang out in the backyard as a family. I rediscovered my love of reading BOOKS, not just articles. Music was our soundtrack instead of TV. And best of all, Aria began to show less and less interest in our phones. Which, honestly, was the best indication that we were headed in the right direction.
Now, I know I’m not alone in this. The past year has been HARD. It’s not as if we had a choice – we needed to stay home in order to save lives, to stop the spread of the pandemic so that we could go back to normality as soon as possible. In this time, I bet most of us have spent far more time on various screens than we ever imagined we would. And that is OK. I’m not in the business of shaming anyone for using whatever coping mechanisms worked to make a global pandemic somewhat bearable.
But as things begin to slowly get better, as the disease is gradually beaten back and becomes less and less of a threat (and I realize we still have quite a ways to go until this happens), isn’t it about time we gifted ourselves a respite from all the blue-light and hunched shoulders? Wouldn’t it be nice for technology to return to its original status as a tool rather than its current role of appendage-in-chief? Does anyone else clearly remember how long the days felt when they weren’t almost entirely spent scrolling?
We can get back to that, I promise.
Once step at a time. Maybe just start by downloading one of the many apps available for tracking your screen time (I know, I know, more technology). Seeing the amount of hours you spend on your phone may shock you into making a change. I know it did this for me.
And if you’re not one of the hoards of people permanently attached to their phones, how have you managed it? What are your secrets? I talk a big talk but I still need all the help I can get (I say after I have been distracted from finishing this post by a notification from my phone sitting directly beside my laptop. Sigh).
Yes, technology has helped us get through this pandemic. But I think we are, as Hermann Hesse suggested, a generation caught between two ages. The age of tech addiction, I hope, is on the wane as more and more people yearn to unplug. To experience a simpler existence. We do have a choice between two modes of life, even if it seems an impossible decision to make. That’s the thing about the shift from one age to another: it’s discombobulating and confusing.
But we can make this change. We have to.
I know what I want this new post-pandemic age to look like, and it bears no resemblance to a screen. What about you?
And, remember, whatever your relationship to technology…Life is beautiful..