Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Only connect--but how much?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

It started innocently enough. I was in the Verizon store on a quick errand, and, just for fun, I asked if I was at that two-year mark when I should look at a new cell phone. Sure enough, the saleschild looked up from his screen and said, “Oh, yeah.” So I wandered, flirting with the chained-down models, and found myself seduced by a cute little almost iPhone-like Palm.

I played with the stuff on the screen and visualized myself with 24/7 e-mail access. I pictured myself looking as if I belonged in this decade with a colorful phone and a cute little charging stand. And apps. Apps? Apps!

“Would you use it mostly for texting and e-mail or would you want to have a lot of games?” the salesboy asked.

“I’d be using it mostly as a phone.” My answer was disappointing to us both.

“Oh.” But he tried to regroup, showed me lots of cool features. I could picture myself using one or two of them. I left intending to think about it, ask around, learn more.

But when the Verizon spell wore off, I was left with the suspicion that maybe I didn’t want to be followed day and night by all my e-mail. The spam? Those nice chatty ones from friends that serve as mini-visits--I wouldn’t want those to demand my attention just when I’m out doing something else.

One of my favorite things about e-mail is its ability to wait for you. It’s not a ringing phone; you get it when you want it, when you have time to read it. I appreciate that as a sender, knowing that I’m not interrupting someone, and as a receiver, having that control over my time.

Time. That’s the thing. The one definite, finite commodity of our lives. The one thing that’s ours to use, to waste, to make of whatever we choose. Do I really want to add a new level of outside demands on it?

It’s especially too easy for writers to spend their days avoiding the time they have. “Now I’ll sit down to write...but first I’d like a cup of tea...and maybe I’ll do the Times crossword puzzle/ read one more chapter/ throw in a load of laundry...” And that’s even before checking the blogroll (which, unlike the morning newspaper, has no end) or having the stray thought that demands satisfaction from Google. Then maybe just a quick peek at the e-mail--oh, the pooch pottie and I could change my life today with a degree in medical records...And all that is without the phone ringing.

In this morning’s New York Times Sunday Styles section, there’s an article about people bucking the trend toward more apps on their phones. One woman is quoted as saying, “There’s this sense that I’m missing out on something I didn’t even know I needed.” Exactly. Just because they’ve built it, do we have to come?

I’m not sure what my decision will be, but right now I’m leaning away from the adorable little Palm and toward just a basic old phone. I know I’ll have regrets about all that missed coolness and cuteness. (If only there was a phone that looked cute and cool.) But how much of my life do I want to make available to outside demands? It’s my time. I think maybe I want to decide how to use it.

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