I’m still adjusting to technology after a month of being away from everything but my smartphone. It’s amazing how much my mouse hand and forearm hurt; I think it’s time to trade in my beloved but clearly harmful thumb-ball mice. I started using them long ago to ease carpal tunnel syndrome, but now they’re a shortcut to tendonitis.
As much as I love the digital world, it’s not so easy to transition back. Facebook is tedious, most of Twitter is petty or repetitive. I craved media when I couldn’t have it, but now I skim the sites I used to read and everything looks boring. I can’t get excited about video games or virtual worlds. It’s all so much meh right now. It’s not that I’m less interested in current events, technology, gaming, anthropology, and thought-provoking issues, but the bar for my attention is higher.
So, as I find my balance again, this might be a good time to write about another occasion where I lost it. I don’t agree with the people who fret about screen time, saying that technology is making us incompetent and antisocial. However, I think that technology can exaggerate some parts of a personality while diminishing others, and we need to be responsible and self-aware of how it’s changing us.
I grew up in the country, swimming in the local creek, building tree forts, biking to nearby stables to ride horses. I was in Girl Scouts and 4-H. It didn’t distress me to find a gutted deer hanging in our garage and I would help my mom wrap packages of fresh meat for the freezer. Yet, a little over a decade ago, I was in a very different place. The change had taken place gradually, but I isolated myself from the natural world more and more. I lived in a third-floor suburban apartment, working 10+ hours a day at a tech company and spending most of my free time online. “Cooking” was microwaving, though I ate one or two meals at the company cafeteria on weekdays. I became squeamish easily, even something like raw chicken would make me gag. I hated being sweaty or dirty. My lifelong arachnophobia had increased to the point where I would shake and burst into tears at a tiny spider across the room. I wasn’t a shut-in — I traveled and dated — but I had become very… delicate.
I was also burnt out. After a few months of introspection, I begged my way into the next round of corporate lay-offs, sold or stored my things, bought an RV, and took off for some solo travels in the US and Canada. My RV wasn’t expensive but I was in no way roughing it — I had a queen-sized bed, nice little kitchen, TV, and satellite Internet. Still, it’s impossible to have that lifestyle without getting dirty. You can’t be delicate when you’re dealing with your own sewage. After facing some hand-sized spiders in Florida and living with a changing array of bugs, my arachnophobia began to fade (it’s completely gone now). When I decided to stop roaming, found a job at another tech company and another apartment, I felt like I had a balance between the natural and digital worlds again.
I’ve managed to keep that balance. It’s not always the same — the proportions of time spent digitally/physically vary over a range that shifts with obligations, weather, passing interests, relationships, and health — but if I swing too far in one direction, I’m confident that I’ll find equilibrium again soon. I’m aware of it.
If you happen to find yourself in the same position I was, I don’t think you need to up-end your whole life the way I did. Pick up a hobby that takes your hands off the keyboard for a while. Get dirty in nature, even if that just means sitting on the grass — not a blanket — in the park. Push back at things that make you uncomfortable. Find a balance that works.
For me, now that I’ve finished writing this post, it’s time to step away from the computer for a while. See you soon.