Thursday, October 13, 2011

Achieving a Moment of Clarity through the Blur of Addiction

After the devastating loss of Apple CEO and technology innovator Steve Jobs last week, I completely forgot about the release of the iOS 5 software update yesterday until speaking with some friends. Intrigued by new features and driven by F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out), I launched iTunes and patiently waited 2 hours for the iOS 5 download to finish. iTunes prompted me with a message stating that in order to install the update it would first reset my phone to the original factory settings before restoring with my personal settings and data. I accepted and, like a child on Christmas Eve awaiting Santa’s delivery, anxiously awaited the new features that Apple would bring. Much to my delight, the installation quickly finished and my iPhone was ready to be explored.


My confusion started when instead of seeing my brightly-colored día de los muertos skeleton background, I saw a sleek gray background and the words “Configurar,” “Konfigurieren,” “配置,” and finally, “Configure,” flash across the slider bar at the bottom of the screen. Before entering into a state of panic, I opened up the iTunes screen and tried to re-sync the phone. iTunes, however, kept experiencing an error and could not sync my phone. Panic started to sink in, but I kept the expletives in my head, and decided to approach the confusion from the phone—maybe a configuration was necessary for the new update?


I discovered that the configuration was the same as the set up for a new device, and quickly the colorful vocabulary, which I had been able to keep inside up to this point, became audible to my roommate. Upon hearing my anger, but also worried dialogue, one of my roommates ran upstairs to find me fitfully pulling my hair and rubbing my face. After many attempts to engage me in conversation (he is a great friend), he finally learned that technology issues were the cause of my woe and quickly fled the scene of the crime (while caring, he is also very smart).

Had I really just lost everything on my phone? I feared that almost 4 years of data and customization would be lost in the realm of cyberspace, never to be seen or heard again. At this point, my anger and anxiety were joined by sadness and desperation. I felt lost. How could I have become so dependent on technology? How could I survive without my phone? How could I ever recreate what I had?

In a moment of lucidity, I thought to quit iTunes and launch it again. Much to my surprise and content (and fortunately for the safety of myself and objects around me), iTunes started to sync, which enabled the restoration of my iPhone to my personal settings and data. Just like a drug addict getting his/her fix, I felt a big wave of relief—I felt calm and peaceful. The frustration and anxiety subsided, ushering in security and clarity.

In a span of about 15 minutes, my mood jumped from that of a drug addict to that of a Zen Buddhist in meditation. All due to technology.

Reflecting on my behavior, I honestly feel pathetic and disappointed. I have become so attached to a piece of technology—although a sophisticated and beautifully designed object, ultimately a lifeless machine composed of metals and plastics—that losing it drove me to an uncontrollable state of panic. While losing my data would have been annoying, it would not have significantly impacted my life. All of my songs, videos, and apps are saved to my iTunes, my contacts are stored in my computer’s address book, and my photos are stored in a backup drive.

As corny as it may be, this experience has made me question my priorities and values. While I appreciate the features and the functionality of the phone, I really ought to appreciate what they represent and allow me to do. Instead of feeling security in having a record of past text messages, I should feel security in reminiscing on past conversations and knowing that I have developed meaningful relationships. The same can be said for pictures—the memory of the moment captured, and the way the experience has affected me are more important than the picture itself.

Kenneth Gergen, a psychologist at Swarthmore College, has proposed a more optimistic theory to explain cell-phone attachment. He postulates that the idea of the cell phone makes the individual feel more connected with others who are not physically with them. In summarizing Gergen’s theory, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill psychologist Jane Vincent writes, “It is as if there is a dormant pool of common and linked minds residing in the ether that the press of a button on the mobile can energise at anytime. The absent presence of each member of the community of users on each mobile phone has the effect of keeping people in touch with each other regardless of their actual distance apart or where they are.”

Gergen’s theory of absent presence presents a more positive outlook on cell-phone attachment in that the individual is not addicted to the technology, but the social interactions that the technology enables. Studies have demonstrated that the millennial generation is constantly connected through technology and social networks. With constant connectivity, the generation seems to crave more interactions as demonstrated by experiences like my own. Although it pains me to say this (I can hear my parents saying I told you so!) perhaps our generation could possibly benefit by putting down the cell phone, disengaging from social networks and engaging in real dialogue. More live dialogues, such as face-to-face conversations and those over the phone or Skype, which require a constant flow of responses, could probably better fulfill our need for social interaction than a text message.

After my phone was up and running, my roommate and I talked about my initial reaction to the possible data lose. We had a good laugh and then went to bed. I really hope that this experience will guide my use of technology in the future and the ways in which I communicate and develop my relationships. While technology has certainly changed our lives for the better, it is necessary to eventually turn of the cell phone or shut the computer screen and live in real life.

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