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Opinion Richard Connor: Technology is wonderful – until it makes you miserable

Richard Connor: Technology is wonderful – until it makes you miserable

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I lose my phone a couple of times a day. Car keys more often than that.

A few weeks ago, as I dropped what I thought were two pieces of mail into the drive-up mailbox at the post office, I believe I included a third envelope – one from the bank with cash in it.

Hours later I raced back to the post office and they kindly walked out with me, opened the mailbox and we sifted through it looking for the misplaced cash.

No luck.

Needle in a haystack.

This past week I lost my cellphone for about three hours. Big deal, I thought. I’ll just text folks to see where I left it. Wrong!

No cellphone. No texting. No way to contact anyone.

As calm as I might have seemed on the outside, I was fraught with anxiety inside. Not panicked, but damn close to it.

And that’s where we are as a society. No cellphone, no life.

It’s not a good sign.

Eventually, I found the phone but the three hours without it late in the evening left me slightly traumatized

Many years ago, when computers were replacing typewriters in the newsroom, a reporter on our staff sat down at his desk only to find a cathode-ray tube – a CRT, as those early computers were called – where his trusty Underwood had been.

He took one look at the modern wonder, stood up, and announced: “I quit. I will not be a slave to technology.”

True story. He flew to a remote spot in Michigan, found work as a lumberjack and was dropped deep into the forest by helicopter. There he would stay for a couple of weeks at a time, until he was picked up and returned temporarily to civilization, then sent back into the woods again.

His friends laughed heartily at him and his escape.

Not so funny today. We are slaves to technology.

And as we know from many studies and news reports, the technology that was supposed to make us more efficient has actually made us busier and more frenetic. We are so busy that we lose cellphones and car keys and all sort of things – even cash in envelopes – because we are running so fast all the time.

There are other signs of the decline of civilization as we know it, and in an April 4 online column New York Times opinion writer David Leonhardt cites examples:

“By now, you probably have at least a passing familiarity with the signs of economic stagnation in this country. I cite the numbers frequently: disappointing economic growth; even more disappointing growth in middle-class incomes; and wealth that has declined for many families over the past decade.

“But the signs of stagnation in other areas – beyond economics – may be just as strong.

“Consider this list: The number of children growing up without two parents has jumped in recent decades. Some major health problems, like diabetes and obesity, have become more common. So have suicides and accidental drug overdoses. Average life expectancy has actually declined.”

Hang with me. It gets worse, writes Leonhardt:

“And The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham recently pointed out another metric: Americans are having less sex.

“It’s partly a result of a decline in stable relationships among Americans aged 18-29. But it also seems to span nearly every age group, including teenagers and middle-aged married couples.

“One factor is technology. People are spending more time using social media, playing video games and, yes, watching pornography, instead of interacting with each other in the real world.”

It’s easy to figure out what’s happened here. In today’s world most of us do two things ritually in the bedroom. The last thing we do at night is look one more time at our cellphone. The first thing we do in the morning is check the phone. Can’t start the day without checking our messages or surfing the web to find out what we missed while we were sleeping.

So consider this. Rather than crumple in despair at the thought of losing your cellphone, imagine the potential benefits of being phoneless some night – or every night. The absence of that nagging, intrusive presence could give you a whole new outlook on life.

For many years I have been convinced that real, honest-to-goodness retirement will only be possible when you leave work one day, drive to a stream, a river, a lake, or the ocean and heave your phone into a watery abyss.

If we all did that, we just might start living again.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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