by Katherine Hauswirth
As I rolled my Hoover from room to room on Saturday, I was repeatedly entangled in yards of black cord connected to various devices around the house. My main task seemed not to involve a quick sweep of debris from our carpet, but rather an unrelenting relocation of plugs and wires to avoid obliteration by suction.
Something is wrong here, I thought, and I struggled with the paradox of technology. I am not a fanatic; I do not aspire to mimic vanishing rural sects that toil for hours to avoid spoiled food and dirty floors. Yet sometimes the technology explosion feels so pervasive that I envision with longing a well-swept campsite and a pile of dry logs. I feel an inescapable wave of BLatant OverAbundance of Technology (BLOAT) coming on. The cure seems to be some sort of reduction plan.
How much is too much? I pondered this as I vacuumed, for I would not easily part with the device that removes dog hair, crumbs, and other detritus in seconds. I thought long and hard about what technology does for me. It keeps me in touch with my out-of-state family. E-mail allows me to send a insomniac's hello without frightening my mother with a sudden late night ring of the telephone. My cell phone has gotten me towed off the highway and allowed me to travel at a moment's notice. When we had a sudden death in the family, I called the dog sitter, the funeral home, and my job en route as I raced to be where I was needed. I have gained precious time in my pajamas by doing most of my research on the Web.
On the other hand, I have wasted untold hours surfing the net, charging phones and changing batteries, flipping the remote, finding the remote, and yes, rearranging and concealing miles of electrical cord. So how does one weigh the burdens and benefits of our plugged-in world?
I am going to ask myself some focused questions about my future technology purchases. I will begin with, "Why do I need this?" Must I manufacture CDs at home? Must I cook meat via laser technology? Must I store large warehouses of digital images on my hard drive? Must my image be sharper, my download quicker, my pixels more numerous? What is a pixel, anyway?
In some cases, the answer may very well be yes. If I write freelance pieces, digital photos may add a marketable glimmer of authenticity to my magazine articles. If I cook elaborate gourmet meals two or three times a week, that slicer-dicer may shave precious hours off my arduous prep time. If I spend hours driving for work and feel the creeping threat of road rage, the CD compilations I create may truly salvage my mental health towards the end of a trying commute. My business plan might rely on a sharp computer image, and I might need an upgrade to compete. Then again, if you don't know what pixels are, you probably don't need more of them.
The potential danger inherent in purchasing technology is the emotional and ecological wastefulness of overindulgence and underuse. Most American households know this habit rather intimately. Do you have a slicer-dicer, breadmaker, ice cream maker, cappuccino machine, or some other kitchen helper that gathers dust? How about computer programs that you have loaded and forgotten? Free cell phone minutes that you feel you must use, even though you have run out of people to call? A wasteland of abandoned electronic devices perhaps less than state-of-the-art but otherwise usable?
Perhaps the answer to, "Why do I need this?" on your last sweaty impulse purchase day was, "Because it's new and cool," Because I can," "Because I want this," "Because they might run out of them," or "Because everyone else has one."
I guess that's the difference between a world enhanced by technology and a world driven by it. We should count 10 seconds, no, 10 minutes, maybe 10 days before we decide we need another device. Consider the BLOAT factor. The key here is balance and usefulness. Neither glitz nor deprivation should be the determining principle. Will your life be enhanced in some regular, measurable way by your new pluggable possession? If so, can you afford it? Is it worth the expense and the attention it will require? Once again, the "everything in moderation" credo rings true.
Living in the 21st century, you are inevitably going to acquire some technology along the way. A deeper question can then be asked. "Can I enhance someone else's life with my leftover technology?" I realized during my vacuum epiphany that careful consideration of our consumption is worth the effort. What we already have but don't use should be recycled or reduced in some way. Old computers and printers to the school, defunct cell phones for victimized women, outgrown musical infatuations or computer programs to the library or another charity. Maybe someone needs your slicer-dicer or breadmaker for their restricted diet. Maybe the church can use your ice cream maker for its youth group parties. Maybe someone will share her CD-burner in exchange for use of your movie soundtracks. Maybe your cell phone plan can be reduced. Maybe you can share your minutes with someone in person.
My cords are trying to tell me something. How about yours?