The Joys of Connectivity // Jana Misk
Over the past few months I agonized over whether to buy an iPhone, iPod Touch or an single-function e-reader device like the Kindle. As I bemoaned my indecision, my boyfriend merely shook his head.
His BlackBerry's incessant beeping and blinking have been a plague on his peace of mind ever since he got the device last summer. He's only recently been able to leave it on the other side of a room for a few hours at a time (while he's at his laptop), though I think this may only be because its email function mysteriously stopped working last week.
He's of a slightly different generation, though (amazing how a couple of years can separate one technological cohort from another); I've been fooling with computers since the age of seven, and logged onto my first Prodigy bulletin board when I was ten. I spent almost all of my free time in high school online, and if I'd been able to afford a laptop back then I probably would have slept with it tucked in my arms like a stuffed animal. These days, while I succumb to the temptations of constant connectivity as much as the next person, I like to think I manage it a little better than some. The question does arise for those who value their privacy and their social invisibility, though: how much of a benefit is it to have the internet and all its trappings available in one's back pocket?
After discovering last week that I'd left my laptop cable in a hotel room in Denver, I decided to finally allow myself to buy an iPod Touch as a substitute portable connectivity device--but really, mostly, probably, because I just wanted a new toy. Also I figured that checking my email only three hundred times a day might be pushing me into old-fogey territory.
The five days I've owned my iPod Touch have very much been a honeymoon period. My multitasking capacity has increased noticeably: I can read a (paper) book while lying on my couch or in bed, and don't have to sit up to attend to emails and IMs coming in on my laptop; instead I simply check my iPod Touch with my free hand. Believe it or not, this has made a big difference in my willingness to set down my laptop and actually recline with a book. (Pathetic? Yes.) I've begun keeping up with my Google Reader subscriptions for the first time since I set up my account a year and a half ago--the lack of ability to multitask within the iPod Touch's tiny window is an asset in certain cases. I click through links on Twitter--something I for some reason rarely do on my laptop. I check email between classes, and on breaks during class, which was helpful last week when six of my students emailed me during the first five minutes of the class meeting to tell me they were sick. I have constant access to my Google Calendar so I can record all those social invitations people throw at me when I'm out in public (ha . . . ha). In other words, the internet has become a richer place for me to roam thanks to this sleek little thing.
OK, as you've probably guessed, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to the internet. Who else would talk about the "richness" of the web like it's a good thing? Writers of the DSM-V might call it an impulse control disorder; people who bought iPhones and iPod Touches when they came out years ago are probably laughing at me for a different reason right now. But I like to think of my recent technological purchase as being about control. Sure, you might argue that the the Demons Behind the Internet control my behavior now better than I control my own. But, spending as much time at home as I have lately, it's comforting to know that some digital version of the world Out There is easily accessible, literally less than an arm's length away. I can ping a friend, send an interesting article to someone who would appreciate it, let my sister know I'm thinking of her--and the interruption of my solitude is minimal. It's a matter of pulling out a surprisingly unobtrusive piece of plastic--as convenient as a writer's back-pocket notebook--and connecting.
Naturally, there's a difference between connectivity and connection. I guess I happen to value both, despite my jealous protection of my alone-time. Professionally, having constant access to email, Google, and social networking makes me feel more efficient without giving any more energy to the online world than I did before. So far, I haven't felt the tug of obligation that so many people report upon increasing their connectivity quotient: "I have a cell phone now, so people expect to be able to reach me. I'm never free!" This may change, but today I am just as (guiltily) comfortable ignoring attempts at contact as I was a week ago. If anything, the guilt of not responding is lessened now because I respond more frequently. I can compose emails on the bus! No more staring out the window thirty minutes a day mentally composing and sending emails that my recipients never get because I forget to actually type them out when I come home.
(And let's not forget the beauty of Stanza, the iPhone and iPod Touch's best free e-reader app, which allows me to download and carry around of tens of thousands of free books through websites like Project Gutenberg. Free books were enough of a selling point that after I found out about Stanza it took me less than twenty-four hours to get to an Apple Store.)
Though I'm probably not the one to ask for an unbiased assessment of the perils and advantages of increased connectivity, I have to say that for this particular recluse, owning yet another internet device is working out well so far, in fact increasing the quality of my alone-time. I'm less reliant on the tyranny of the laptop screen, which means I get to spend more time looking at something other than an LCD monitor, and less time fretting about what would be on that screen if I were to look at it. All this, just in time to enjoy the quiet blooming of spring in Minneapolis.