iPhone: check. Laptop: check. iPad: check. Sonic face cleaner: check. Electric toothbrush: check. Kindle Paper White: check. Nike Fuel Band: check. Security system: check. TiVo: check. Programmable coffee pot: check. Personal pleasure device: oops, over-sharing.
I’ve got more gadgets that plug in, charge up and are supposed to make my life easier in spite of the fact that hauling them around, powering them up and unplugging them now requires a good twenty minutes a day and an extra piece of luggage when I travel. It’s gotten so cumbersome that I’ve actually run out of electrical outlets and now rely on behemoth power strips in my office, bedroom, and family room just to keep my gadgets juiced.
From laundry machines and dishwashers that are smarter than we are, to toilets that open automatically, cleanse your nether regions, front and back, flush without touching, and close when sated, we’ve become a nation totally dependent on computerized gizmos to get through the day. I remember when “Charge it!” meant I was putting a new dress on my credit card. Now it’s become an hourly mantra as I watch, with acute anxiety, my cell phone battery icon drain or my laptop de-juice as I work, sans power cord, at Starbucks. I’m so charged up that I’m totally weighed down with technological must-haves and the manuals that accompany them.
As a kid growing up in the ‘60s, you had one television set for the living room – if your parents could afford it. You listened to music on a transistor radio that emitted more static than tunes. And, if you were really stylin’, you might have a portable record player and a pink princess phone in your bedroom. You brushed your teeth at least twice a day with a toothbrush that required a manual up and down motion, dried your hair with a GE device that resembled a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner and is now on display at the Smithsonian, then hit the road on your no-speed Schwinn Starlet bike. When it was time for you to come home for dinner, your mom opened the front door and bellowed your name so loud it echoed across the suburban canyons until you heard it five minutes later, three blocks away. Or, if she were state-of-the-art, she’d ring the cowbell. The only sound you were really tuned into was the ding-a-ling of the Good Humor ice cream truck that somehow spurred even the chunkiest kids in the neighborhood to sprint like Jesse Owens.
When did we decide that life was meant to be lived plugged into myriad gadgets? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I love my smartphone and my e-readers. I can’t even wield a pen and paper anymore, my brain feels so connected to my laptop keyboard. But as I was getting ready for bed the other night and making the usual last laps around the house, plugging in all the devices it now takes to power my life, I realized that I’ve become the pilot of my own complex cockpit. I systematically insert plugs into gadgets and prongs into sockets. While I don’t know a motherboard from a flash drive or JPEG, I can figure out how to keep my toys ready for action. I’m so plugged in I break out in something startlingly akin to a hot flash when I realized I’ve headed to the grocery store without my cell phone.
No, I’m not going to retire my gadgets. I can’t imagine how I’d get through a day without having the answer to every possible question at my now agile fingertips. But I’m beginning to wonder – do we still control our gadgets or have they begun to control us? Can we really concentrate when our day is filled with the intrusions of incoming email, texts and phone calls? Who among us can resist checking the news or Facebook countless times each day? I knew the second Michelle Obama decided to grow her bangs, that James Gandolfini enjoyed gnocchi the day before he died of a massive heart attack, and that it’s raining on Martha’s Vineyard right now. But did I need to learn it all as breaking news?
Somehow I suspect it was easier to gradually power up than it would be to suddenly de-device my life. But I’m starting to resent the hold my gadgets have gained on me.
I look back on the anticipation I used to have about joining Tom Brokaw for the 7pm nightly news on NBC as some kind of archaic ritual. But who needs TV when I’ve got the world by its tail?
In 1953, a prescient Frank Sinatra sang:
I’ve got the world on a string
I’m sitting on a rainbow
Got the string around my finger
What a world, what a life – I’m in love.
Who knew, that sixty years later, the string would be made of wires encased in rubber and connected to an Apple 12-watt USB power adaptor?