Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Own Mental Visit to Paris


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.

6 comments:

  1. Since I moved to France over a year ago, my reliance on technology has changed. Sure I need it to keep in touch with the rest of the world. But like my French neighbours we take a decent break for lunch, we sit and chat.

    My mobile bill has dropped to the point I hardly remember the last time I used it! If I get a text message it surprises me!

    Technology has it's place in modern society, but I don't see everyone walking around with iPhones here like you do in London.

    It might explain why the prices are so high on them here, because of the different culture may be.

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  2. Steve - It's the same way here in New York as in London. People are constantly checking their mobile devices and refuse to go anywhere without them. Sometimes it's difficult to have an actual conversation with people because they are so involved with their cell phones. I wish people could use them and just as easily put them away. But alas, that is not to be... Sigh.

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  3. I am right on par with you. I love my smart phone and it serves its purpose, but I rarely use it. I got in on a $15/month plan with 150MB of data - on a "busy" month, I go through maybe 30MB. It's nice to have if I'm stuck someplace, but I prefer to "unplug" as well. In fact, I rarely use my home computer, after sitting in front of a computer all day, the last thing I want to do at home is sit in front of the computer. My one vice - I just got a Kindle last week. My work bag is so heavy to be lugging a single book around, never mind more than one, and I often finish books while I'm on the train, so it is a wonderful device! I don't consider that being plugged in though as I can't connect to the internet, it's just for reading.

    That's an incredibly interesting observation on how patrons are using public libraries. I have noticed that the course offerings for computer classes has definitely increased over the years. Unfortunately, knowing how to at least send an e-mail has become a necessity.

    Also - I believe it's Toyota that has a great set of commercials on kids saying how "sad" their parents lives are, they only have 30 facebook friends, I have 650. Meanwhile, the parents are out experiencing life. I hope that as people get older they begin to realize they'll be spending enough of their time cooped up inside when they get older and to appreciate everything life has to offer away from their computers.

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  4. I don't even have a smart phone. I love the ode of one, but I know if I had one, I'd use it too much and constantly be checking things that don't make much of a difference, like Facebook (as much as I like it).

    Yes, it is Toyota. Yeah, the parents have 20 friends but they know how to get out of the house and DO something. =)

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  5. A late comment... sorry!

    I totally agree with all you have said. Based in the UK, but spent some of this year in Italy and Spain (as well as the States) and the contrast with cell/mobile phone use was huge. In continental Europe you rarely see people using smart-phones in the street (mainly used for phone calls!)... in the UK, States I found people were walking into each other as they were typing and walking... huge contrast!!! Also noticed a lack of take out coffee shops in main-land Europe with locals taking the time to sit and enjoy their drink (there's an idea!!!). Certainly made me think of my own phone use (I LOVE my iPhone and it is great for checking social media on the move which I love as I don't like using my computer at home when the children are in) but also need some time away from it (try and avoid at week-ends etc). Think we all need to unplug some times...

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  6. No worries - I'm late publishing and commenting myself. Yes, here in the US people spend more time texting and checking social media than they do looking at and interacting with the people right in front of them. It gets very frustrating trying to grab someone's attention when they are constantly looking down. Unplugging it a great idea!

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