For those of you who have read the latest Philofaxy Web Finds, you are familiar with the Huffington Post article on being a prisoner of technology. Before I go on, let me say that this article resonated with me a great deal. Too often I have felt the same way that author Honig seems to feel—that as a society, we rely too heavily on being connected to the online world, every day, all day. As Americans, we don’t know how to shut off the technology, to take a (real) break from work and all that is demanded upon us each and every day. So many other cultures know how to do this, and they do it well. They work just as hard as anyone, but they also know how to turn it off and let go of it for a while. Do we really accomplish more by working more hours, or do we simply put ourselves in harm’s way by pushing the envelope and the length of the working day? In my opinion (and possibly backed by some research), we are an unhealthier society because of the amount of work we do. So many people are stretched beyond capacity, overworked and overstressed. Their health, emotional well-being, social and family life suffer greatly because of it.
While I don’t feel that I fall into the severe end of this spectrum (being a civil servant, I am only allowed to work a certain number of hours per week), I do feel the expectations technology—and, as a result, society—put on me. With new forms of technology come new forms of demands that are put on me. With every device that comes on the market, there are that many more items to check for updates and to provide updates myself. Between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, eReaders, cell phones, smart phones, home phones, television, movies, and streaming content, I feel like there are more demands for my attention than I can possibly give myself to. Don’t get me wrong—I love each and every one of these products, and I use them often. But, more and more, I have been finding that I need to unplug from all of these things, maybe even on a larger scale than I already do.
If you’ve been a long-time reader of my blog, then you probably have read my posts on being overwhelmed and overloaded. I have been better at unplugging on the weekends. I may check in to Facebook and/or Twitter, and I do keep up with blog posts that appear in my reader. But I don’t stay on any of these sites for very long. I check in and check out. I mark blog posts of interest and read them later, during the week. Yes, this means that I’m a little behind in replying to many posts, if at all (because when you’re that far behind, does it matter?). But so be it. I’m still reading them, which is the point to begin with.
Things at work have been very hectic for me—for all of us who work in libraries. For anyone who thinks that libraries are on their way to extinction, let me tell you, they are not. Not here anyway. True, smaller state-funded only libraries throughout the country have had to close their doors due to lack of funding. And that is very sad because some people don’t seem to know just how valuable their public libraries are in providing information and services that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. But I would venture to say (and this is just my opinion and guess) that these libraries have been closed for lack of funding only and not due to lack of need or use. I’m not trying to get into the politics of it all here. But my point is this: the role of your public library is changing drastically. People are not necessarily coming in to do book-based research anymore. Many patrons come in to learn how to use the technology that is becoming so prevalent in their world today. This is great for everyone all around—people still need libraries, and (generally speaking) librarians still have jobs (thankfully). These patrons are feeling overwhelmed because of all the technology out there, the technology that is thrust into their faces every day, the technology they don’t know how to use but are being forced to learn. The world it seems is changing, and not necessarily for the better. Where it used to be that the latest technology was a choice, it is not becoming a necessity. Pick any day of the week and I can show you someone who is desperately looking for a job (any job) and applying for a certain position, a position for which computer knowledge won’t be necessary, but for which a computer is necessary to apply for the position because the company wants to weed out the people who don’t know how to use a computer, and the person cannot do that because they don’t know how to use a computer. It’s a catch-22 and frustrating as hell, both for the patron who is looking for that job and the librarian who is desperately trying to help but can only do so much. That’s our business. Librarians are in the business of helping the public at large in any way they can. We don’t know all of the answers, but we know how to direct you to those answers.
I am of the in-between technology generation. I didn’t grow up using technology the way kids today do. But I need to know it in order to survive in this world. Almost everything I know I have taught myself because I needed to. So many people are still doing that today, but by force, not by choice.
Like I said, I love technology and all that it can do for us. But sometimes I am so overwhelmed by it all—by how fast it changes, by how much I need to know the second it changes, because one little behind-the-scenes change changes everything I do with that technology, because other people come to me for the answers to their technology questions. I love that I can help people navigate the world of technology, even while I’m learning it myself. But that love wears on me too.
Long gone are the days of hand-written thank you notes and birthday cards (though I still do both). Actual books are becoming a thing of the past with the invention of the eReader (I still don’t own one, and as great as they are, I probably won’t until I can no longer get an actual book). This is why I use a paper planner and not an electronic device to keep me organized, much to the chagrin and awe of some of my friends. I like putting actual pen to actual paper to write down my actual thoughts. I don’t necessarily want to tap and click my way to solve every problem.
It is becoming even more important for me to unplug on a regular basis, for my own mental and emotion well-being. It will make me a better listener and answer-provider to those asking questions. As a society, I think we’d all do better if we followed in the steps of Parisians, as described by Honig. In answer to his last question in the article, I may have yet to visit Paris, but Paris is already with me.