Dear Technology... Where is Your "Pause" Button?

Dear Technology,

I have a new YouTube obsession that’s saving me from watching “The Evolution of Dance” for the 100th time, the footage from the TED conferences.  After checking out the website, I discovered that the name is not an ode everyone’s least favorite How I Met Your Mother character.  It is actually an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design; as if you needed any more publicity!

I must admit that you do deserve the distinction of spearheading such an amazing organization dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.”  The conferences I’ve watched along with the millions of other viewers have featured some of the greatest minds of our time.  But while speakers like Bono and Bill Clinton get me to click on a video, the only reason I’m able to do so at all is because of you.

Some of the speakers are dedicated to increasing your influence through innovative research and inventions.  Take Pranav Mistry for example; he urges us to let expand your influence at all times and in any place.  His idea of SixthSense technology allows you to transcend the devices you reside in with concepts like paper laptops.  This enables the digital world to be available anywhere.  My chiropractor will be particularly happy about this development.  When carrying my laptop around the streets of New York I can’t help feeling like I’m getting stabbed in the back, physically and figuratively.

As I was perusing some of the many, many TED talks posted online, I couldn’t help but notice the amazing quality of the HD videos that were so easily placed at my fingertips.  The quality is so good, that it almost feels like I’m there.  However, judging by the $7,500 fee to attend the sold out 2014 Conference, I would say it is safe to assume that people still value physically attending despite the plethora of YouTube videos available.  Dr. Sherry Turkle gave a presentation called 

“Connected, but alone?”

, which questioned whether your constituents and their prevalence in our daily lives is changing who we are.  She proposes the idea that even though technology allows us to be constantly connected with social networks, it can make us feel even more alone.

I’ve got to say, this concept reminds me of when my friends get into unhealthy relationships.  When two people become so absorbed and dependent on each other, they seem to morph into this singular entity.  Even more frighteningly, they begin to lose their sense of autonomy.  Have you ever known someone that became overly engrossed in a relationship that they couldn’t go anywhere without their significant other joining as well? For example, I try to have a monthly boy’s night with some of my guy friends; we call it “Manday” and it’s a tradition that has lasted several years.  But ever since my friend “Jack” (I’ve decided to change his name to protect my “IRL” friendships) got married, he refuses to go out socially without his wife and stopped joining us.  In such relationships the couple may be striving for a tighter bond, however an extreme approach may leave them more segregated from their friends and family.  Technology, I like you, I really do, but I don’t want to be in a monogamous, co-dependent, unhealthy relationship with you. I want to be able to fall asleep at night without feeling separation anxiety because I left you to charge on my table all the way across the room. And if all goes well, we can continue a balanced love life where I pull out my phone to share a picture on Instagram and have YouTube at my disposal when I need my weekly fix of “giggling baby” videos, but put you away when I’m at dinner with my family or friends.  

In my unbiased opinion, I think you’re starting to see it my way too.  As I mentioned, your name is a part of the “TED” acronym, which leads me to believe that you have some say in the logistics of these conferences.  Although you have had countless speakers discuss the benefits of your ever-evolving presence in our lives, you also invite speakers like the aforementioned Dr. Turkle.  She even wrote an entire book, “Alone but Together” (2011) all about how our relationships with you and your portable devices “may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship” (p1).  I’m beginning to think that you want to make our friendship healthier just as much as I do; and I’m finally getting the hint.  We all need to be reminded that a relationship with you can be a bit tumultuous and intense.  So, we have to be responsible for creating boundaries.  One habit I’ve adopted recently is making sure this boundary is tangible and not just metaphorical.  At dinner time (when my family needs me more than I need my twitter feed) I will silence my trusty iPhone and place it in a paper bag.  Without this physical barrier, I sometimes catch myself impulsively checking my cell phone before I realize what I’m doing it.  But when I “bag it”, out of sight and physically isolated from me, the only way I can get to it is to intentionally remove the obstruction and retrieve my phone for a specific purpose.  I’ve started handing out such paper bags in my “Dear Technology” lectures to elementary students and parents and receive great feedback of its utility. But don’t worry Technology; this is not a warning sign for a break up.  I’m simply suggesting we integrate some time-outs so that I can stop compulsively playing Candy Crush on the subway (I’m stuck on level 217) and you can focus on working with your minions to get the next addicting app to market ASAP.