Cold turkey

It was odd to wake to the sound of the dishwasher, as it had finished its run as we went to bed – it must have turned itself back on during the night!  Just as odd was to find that we were without any Internet link. But, unlike the dishwasher, apparently this had turned itself off.

All became clear when my wife read the ‘Malfunction’ section of our Wi-Fi router manual:  “Lightening can damage your system. If there is a storm, turn the apparatus off at the mains…” During the night there was indeed a storm. And if lightening could interfere with one electrical device, why not with another?

The dishwasher recovered almost immediately – the Wi-Fi system and I took over a week. This was no trivial matter as all our devices are interlinked and as a result of the storm we lost the use of our telephone land line, iPads, laptops, printer and the Wi-Fi connectivity on my mobile phone.

For my part, with the abrupt and unexpected absence of my normal electronic support, I began to develop symptoms of electronic-device withdrawal. I had been without full support before as when on holidays or weekends away, but being completely deprived in my own house and with neither time to plan nor adjust was different.

Over recent years I have become seriously device-dependent, so feel uncomfortable, even lost, if the need to text or phone goes unsatisfied. The same feeling surfaces when I am unable to send or receive emails and again, when I can’t check the weather or the sport, or search for information to satisfy curiosity or settle a debate. After all, prior to the blackout, I would have been using one or other electronic device at least forty times a day. Going from that to zero was abstinence indeed.

This dependency is a relatively recent phenomenon. Once upon a time I would manage happily for weeks on end without any of these aids. I remember particularly our summer stays in a cottage in Somerset. It was around 1975 and there, if I needed to be in touch, everything was satisfied by the radio, the daily paper, the telephone kiosk round the corner and the postal service. And there were always chats with neighbours. The tempo of life felt less hectic, the pressures less demanding. In those days, being impatient for information would have been a waste of energy.

Prompted by this memory of Somerset bliss, I began to feel guilty about my proselytising. For several years I have been bent on persuading two close French friends that they should embrace modern technology and, that although it seemed a paradox, they would need it increasingly as they aged. At their fingertips they could have access to almost everything. Neither of them uses a mobile phone or a computer, saying they don’t have the time nor feel the need. They prefer to maintain the peace and quiet of yesteryear and avoid the kind of dependency that presumably they see in me and in most of those around them. After all, unlike younger people, they know what peace and quiet is about. For my part, I drone on, teasing them that they are Luddite and that deep down they really want to change. I have even offered to buy each of them a computer lesson for their birthdays. More patronising still, I have even felt sorry for them.

But now I realise how right they are and that there is much in what they say that applies to me. Yes, when I was at work, information and immediate contact were my stock-in-trade, but my withdrawal symptoms suggests that this need is now inappropriate and out of control.

I now need to reconsider how I relate to electronic devices and as a result of a lucky lightening strike I have been prompted to do just that. And high time too.

4 comments on “Cold turkey
  1. greyhares says:

    Technology has, by and large, been a force for good in the world. I’m thinking of the advances in medicine.. or say, in car safety / environmental impact – you may hanker after the ‘idyllic’ days of the 1970s (I remember that bloody awful decade well – see Winter’s Tale) but who, realistically, would want to be driving around in a car from that era? Your Austin Allegro was probably the car of your dreams in 1975 but who would want one now?

    Except when you find yourself cut off from it, technology is under your control (you don’t have to answer your mobile phone.. or reply to that email instantly) it only becomes a problem if you let it turn into a kind of personal tyranny.

    I don’t think you patronise your elderly friends by feeling sorry for them. Maybe they have earned the right to opt out (though they never opted in) but many older people are afflicted by fear of technology… incomprehension leading to a feeling of isolation. Several years ago I helped an elderly neighbour get up and running on Skype – speaking to and seeing her grandchildren in New Zealand was a quite palpable thrill for her.

    So Joe, don’t cut yourself off from the wonders of the 21st Century, just relax a bit more – those ‘must achieve’ deadlines and targets you set yourself are to blame for your anxiety, not the technology!

  2. Guillemette Cox says:

    You are quite right ,peace and quite can be very refreshing, but it needs a context where the senses are stimulated by nature, scenery etc otherwise I find your mind starts firing questions and not being able to answer them can be very frustrating. I think there is a discipline called meditation which should help the mind wandering. I have not tried it yet.

    • greyhares says:

      Guillemette, take a look at a technique called ‘Mindfulness’. it is a form of meditation, without the mysticism that puts many people off other forms of meditation, including me.

      The guru of Mindfulness is Jon Kabatt-Zinn. There’s an excellent introductory video of Jon speaking to a lunchtime session for employees at Google HQ here:

      I was taken aback by the technique, and can honestly say it has been transformational. There are mindfulness classes out there in most cities (in the UK at least).

      The intro is about 20 mins, then you can practice the technique. Don’t skip the intro – it is well worth listening to!

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