Reign of the Gadgets: The Illusion of Personal Choice

The gadgets that keep me company—the iPhones, iPods, tablets, laptops, and TVs—poke at me from every direction.  “Listen,” they say, “look at me.  Stroke my keys, brush the dust from my screen.  Please, please use me, need me, and never put me down.”

Whenever I choose to leave my apartment to spend a few hours reading and sipping coffee at the bookstore, I cast a glance at my iPad and wonder if I ought to bring it with me.  “Of course you ought to,” the iPad says to me.  “You need to check e-mail and Facebook and you must know in real time whether anyone has commented on your blog.”

Owning the iPad has created in me a need to own an iPad and hover over my virtual self with a compulsion that borders on obsessive.  Of course, this argument is with myself, not my iPad.  I wanted to go to the bookstore to occupy what Shirley Heath, Stanford social scientist, calls an “enforced transition zone” into which the outside world not only does not, but cannot intrude.

In the “enforced transition zone” I regain my freedom.  I’m allowed to become lost in myself rather than in the collective of the connected world, where temptations dangle in front of me and images, ideas and suggestions lodge themselves in my mind from moment to moment.

I don’t feel like I chose to buy an iPad, or to join Facebook, or to own a cell phone.  They chose me, and they marshaled the “decisions” of a billion people all over the world to inveigle me into making a choice that no longer feels like a choice.  These devices and services are part of the fabric of reality, and to abstain from them would be to pretend that I don’t walk on solid earth, that I don’t breathe air like the rest of humanity, that I exist on an island and that I have no need of human contact and community.  I can’t choose to opt out of life itself.

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About atomsofthought
Teacher. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

14 Responses to Reign of the Gadgets: The Illusion of Personal Choice

  1. haha that’s what i do too, only with an ipod touch though haha. i saved anough money and had 3 choices: laptop, ipod touch, ipod. i chose the ipod because i wanted something compact. 3months later, it’s still my companion for everything. i only wish i got an iphone instead haha.

  2. I kind of feel like you’re right about the choosing. I saw smart phones everywhere, in everyone’s hands, in ads galore. I was so curious and intrigued and I wanted one too. Now I have one and I can’t seem to be separated from it. I feel anxiety when that little battery bar starts turning yellow and then RED! Oh, no! What will I do? I stop short of bringing my charger to the store. I think that would be carrying it too far.

    But I like the idea of the enforced transition zone. This past week, all I’ve wanted to do is read. And by read, I mean a real book. Something made out of paper. I have felt the need to get on the computer, but need in terms of “I should”. I should write a post, I should keep up with the blog and my subscriptions. Maybe my desire to de-electronic myself is my mind telling me that I need to cut back.

    • A real book… I so relate. OK, I bought an ereader last year and read the crap out of it for a couple of months. I still use it for e-magazines and newspapers, but I stopped reading books on it. I’m just too attached to the paper variety. I love how they feel. I love turning the page. Part of reading for me is the tactile experience. Obviously any kid growing up with nothing but e-readers won’t miss what he never even knew. But I need to “feel” the book in my hands.

      • Yes, I get it about the touching. I don’t know why, but turning the page is satisfying.

        I have a bunch of books on my phone, but I’m realizing that I really just like that at night, so I don’t have to fiddle with an annoying book light. With a real book, it’s much easier to see everything and flip through the pages to find an earlier passage. And it has weight and mass. And it smells like a book.

  3. pattisj says:

    I’ve been considering some of the same issues. We have vacation later this year, and I’m already wondering whether to “unplug” as I’ve seen so many brave souls do, or “check-in” morning and night. I still have a couple months to decide…

  4. Anonymous says:

    It is too easy to get hooked on the gadgets! I, too, go through withdrawals if I am away from my “connections” too long. I think about taking a break for a couple days each week, but have not actually taken that brave, brazen action. I wish us all luck getting more time in the transition zones!

    • When I worked in Yosemite cell phones barely got a signal even in the valley. It was so bad that hardly anyone could call out or in except with the pay phones. I didn’t have a cell phone and made weekly calls to my family in Texas. I kind of missing the act of using a pay phone. Weird, right? I also could only use the internet once a week at the library in the valley. There were two computers and demand for them was so high that the librarian had to impose the once a week limit on anyone who wanted to use them.

  5. Patti Ross says:

    I was not really anonymous with the earlier comment, just did not realize I was not logged in–oh no, are the gadgets stealing out identities too!? Ha

  6. I am struck by how technology doesn’t merely facilitate our actions, but creates them. We can be sucked into a high-tech web that becomes our focus as opposed to allowing us the freedom to do what we wish to do. I am by no means a technophobe but I wonder if our gadgets become our fetish, with the social experience they facilitate more of a byproduct than a goal.

    • Yeah, you put your finger on it: often (or maybe more than just “often”) technology creates our actions, good, bad, irrelevant, etc. I think I’m a lot like you. I’m not a technophobe, but I do have reservations. I was such a gadget nerd when I was a kid! What happened? 🙂 The social experience concerns me only because although I recognize that we’ve gone through multiple technological revolutions over the centuries, this one seems different. Each revolution in communications produces something that’s closer to “anywhere, anytime” interaction, which I’m afraid undermines the our sense of place. It’s exponential growth… which means where it will lead is unpredictable, even if it’s perfectly fine.

  7. Amy says:

    When my husband and I travelled to Northern Italy a couple of months ago, I was surprised to see so many people were still using the first generation Nokia cell phone, and almost no one used gadgets (if any, it was unnoticeable). There, people seemed enjoy talking to each other on the street and in train stations, coffee shops, piazza, and restaurants. As soon as we arrived at the airport, I noticed everyone was using either iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Kindle. I thought you’d feel real short if you didn’t actually have one in you palm.
    You are so right about “They chose me…”.

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