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Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 43 - Electronics

Martin Voltri, Flickr

When I bought my car, the sales consultant spent as much time (if not more time) explaining how to set up and use Bluetooth than he did explaining the "traditional" car characteristics. 

He never mentioned anything about cylinders, torque and horsepower. I'll give it to him that he did not point out which mirror I could use to refresh my makeup either. 

But I now know how to call my mother hands-free while driving, by just saying her name out loud (he helped me set that up, arguing it could come in handy). I don't even have to touch my flip phone to be in immediate communication with whoever I want. How convenient! (And how dangerous, according to recent studies that show talking on the phone, even hands-free, increases your risk of an accident.) Never mind that I do not make phone calls from my car, and that I only use said flip phone for emergencies (i.e., almost never).

More and more people are expressing astonishment at the fact that I don't own a smart phone. Admittedly, everyone but the kitchen table owns one, so I guess I'm the weirdo. Still, I can't help but wonder: How could an inessential gadget become mainstream so fast? Ten years ago, smart phones were few and far between in North America. Now they are everywhere. I understand how such a phenomenon could apply to, say, washing machines: they did make a huge difference for the better in the life of the North American homemaker when they were first put on the market. But smart phones? Are they that useful?

Despite being a big fan of technology, a daily user (arguably an excessive user) of the Internet, and an "ex-video gamer", I haven't hopped on the portable device bandwagon yet, and I don't know when or if I will. Up to now, the main pressure to get a smart phone has come from friends who tell me I need one, not from me actually feeling the need. 

Not having a smart phone "forces" me to call people or write them an email instead of texting them. Not having a smart phone forces me to check directions before I leave on a trip, and to carry a road map in my car (I don't have a GPS either). Interestingly, I enjoy reading maps, and it has never caused any issue. The same applies to calculators: since I do not carry one with me, I have the pleasure of doing mental math on a regular basis, which is probably good for my almost 40-year-old brain. Other than that I don't see what not having a smart phone changes in my life.

But wait! Here is what it changes:

  • When I'm with my friends or with my family, I actually focus on them, as opposed to looking down at a screen or jumping whenever I hear a buzz.
  • When I drive I am not distracted.
  • When I have to wait somewhere, I get lost in my thoughts, which often prove to be rather creative provided I allow them to go in whatever direction they want to take. Or, if the scenery is nice, I get lost in its beauty reaching my five senses.
  • When on vacation I completely "disconnect" from the rest of the world.
  • I never feel distressed about forgetting or losing my phone.
  • I don't contribute to polluting the environment with one of the worst "planned-obsolescence-infused" items there is.

Think I'm a freak? Wait, I haven't even told you that I don't own a tablet or another portable device either (except a dinosaur of a laptop that I only use very occasionally). Nor do my children, by the way. Which means that, poor them, they have to find another way to occupy themselves whenever

  • We go on long drives
  • We go to a restaurant
  • We watch their sibling play sports
  • We go to the dentist's, the doctor's, or any other specialist's office
  • We go camping
  • They are at a friend's house
  • We are home, doing nothing
  • I need to get some work done without their constant interruptions
  • Etc.

What do they do then? Honestly, I don't care as long as they remain safe and respectful of their surroundings. Sometimes they read. Sometimes they write. Sometimes they draw. Sometimes they build things. Sometimes they listen to music. Sometimes (if the space and setting allows for it) they move around, dance, run, jump, climb, throw balls, do cartwheels. Sometimes they find a friend and/or a game to play with. Sometimes they just stare in the distance, and I know for a fact that some of their most fascinating reflections on life and the world are taking place at that exact moment.

Sometimes they chat with me. How sad would it be if there was a screen between us (literally) during those moments.

Whenever I advocate for minimal use of portable electronic devices for children (and I wouldn't be the only one, since specialists everywhere are saying the same), I am often told that "children need to know how to use them". May I reassure everyone that children do NOT need to spend 10+ hours a week in front of a screen to learn how to use it? With their occasional witnessing or use of other people's games electronic devices, my children already know more than enough about "the new technologies". Plus, schools themselves are increasingly incorporating iPads and such in the classroom. It suffices.

May I also reassure everyone that children ARE capable of waiting, occupying themselves and remaining well-behaved without the help of a screen? The fact that "times are changing" doesn't mean all of our ways have to. I strongly believe that my children actually benefit from being bored/having to wait on a regular basis, as I might have mentioned once or twice on this blog already. And don't tell me it's because my kids are angels: they are not. As I write this I just had to kick them out of the house ("Go play outdoors!") because they were becoming too rambunctious.

Children are very adaptable creatures (with the possible exception of two year-olds, who can be quite inflexible - but screens are even worst for toddlers, so we'll have to suck it up like every other parent has since the dawn of time). Let's trust that if they don't have access to screens every time things get boring or uncomfortable, they will figure out a way to deal with it.

How do you manage portable electronic devices in your life? Do you feel they bring you more than they take away from you?


Turns out that apple cider vinegar actually works as a conditioner. I just wasn't diluting it properly. 1-2 tablespoons in a cup of water work pretty well, and don't smell too bad.

I haven't used my new car to go to work yet. It sits there but I will only use it when it's a need. I have, however, used it to go to the library with the kids on the recent PD day, while D was gone with the other car. We live in the woods and other means of transportation are rarely an option as there pretty much is nothing (except for schools) in the area.

A salesperson showed up at my door trying to sell me an Internet/TV/phone bundle. We already have a service provider and are happy with it, but the young man wouldn't take "I'm not interested" for an answer, and argued that I had to give him a reason why. He seemed personally offended that I wouldn't listen to his sales pitch, even if I told him very politely that I didn't want to waste his or my precious time. By the time he said "I can come back if you're busy right now", I couldn't help but respond "Please don't". The whole interaction was uncomfortable for both of us. He wanted my money, I was not gonna give it to him. Why not stop there? Why does it have to turn into harassment? Why is this practice deemed acceptable in the world of door-to-door (or telephone) selling? As with physical encounters: no means no. Period.

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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  1. I dont have a smart phone, either! I do have a GPS just because I often go to unfamiliar places and it is reassuring to have it, especially since I dont always get directions right on my own.

    and hurray for children who live without screens, they will be much better for it. Mine are old enough to buy their own but they didnt have excessive screens under my watch

    1. There's no universal recipe when it comes to electronics, but "all in moderation" serves us well I think. :-) Thank you for commenting!

  2. I have a smartphone, and a laptop that I use once or twice a week.
    I do worry that my smartphone stops me from interacting with the world around me...but as I was reading your post I realised that when I was a child/teenager (before smartphones, when we had a computer but not Internet) I used to spend all the time I possibly could with my head in a book, ignoring the here and now. I read wherever I could...at the dinner table if I could get away with it!
    The difference with the smart phone is there is a tendency to compulsively check apps/websites to see if anything has happened in the Internet world, even when you've just looked at the app, which I don't think is healthy. If I find myself doing this, I make myself put the phone away and do something else!

    However, for me the advantages very much outweigh the disadvantages. I use my phone as a pocket sized camera (which is much better quality and smaller than the actual cameras I have had, as well as being multipurpose). I take lots of photos of walks, skies etc which I would not without my phone.

    My friends and I use various Whatsapp group chats to stay in touch and share photos- we could phone each other individually, but unless we could organise a time for a conference call (that would never happen!) people would miss out on the chat and planning for face to face meet ups.

    If I have kids I'd want to limit their screen time until they were older- my brother and I weren't allowed to watch much TV or other screen related things, but went outside/read books etc etc instead- I think it is important to develop other interests which the smartphone tablet enhance, rather than the computer being the only interest in life!

    1. "The difference with the smart phone is there is a tendency to compulsively check apps/websites to see if anything has happened in the Internet world." That's exactly why I'm resisting. :-)

    2. At least if you do get one you are forewarned of the dangers and can be self disciplined from the start- it's much harder to break the habit once it's started!

  3. People MUST BE SHOCKED by you as they are STUNNED :-) by the fact I wont connect mine in the car.
    I wont talk on the phone.
    I wont be read their texts.
    I listen to the RADIO!! :-)

    1. Some people (friends and family, NOT coworkers or bosses or clients), have complained that they cannot reach me IMMEDIATELY when they want to. I honestly don't know how to respond to that. Yay for the radio. :-)

  4. Right on, Julie! I'm also "a smart person with a dumb phone." lol! I've read about technological autism and I think it's a real phenomena.

    I was once on a long flight in poor weather traveling from Florida to Virginia using the GPS in the plane for navigation, (yes, I have one in the plane, but I think that's a different level of need) when the back light in the GPS went out rendering the unit inoperable. Using MAPS I was able to complete the flight without incident.

  5. A couple of things. One, I request of all people when we sit for a meal out, that they put their phones away. It's optional, but most people agree.

    Since I don't own a car, but do occasionally drive my mother's car, it doesn't come up that often. BUT, when I do, I always put my phone in the trunk -- no longer an option.

    When my daughter was a teenager (I still owned a car) we did a road trip loop of the western US. Took about 3 weeks. On the way home, just north of San Diego, we were in horrible traffic. I turned the radio on to get a traffic report. At that moment, I realized I had just spent 3 weeks in a car with a teenage girl -- and THAT was the first time the radio was turned on.

    Kids are adaptable yes, but so are teens.

  6. Ha! Well, I recently caved and bought a smartphone. Mostly I did it because I make my living on the web, and I needed to make my web pages mobile compatible - which is sorta hard to do without an actual mobile device! Simulators only get you so far...

    Anyhow, I ride my bike a LOT and part of what I do for a living is take pictures. I used to carry both a small camera and an emergency flip phone, so having only one device to haul around on my bike has been nice - plus it's lots easier to access the photos because I don't have to plug anything into my computer, I just get them through WiFi.

    Let's see... is there anything else good I can say about the thing? Oh yes, I did use it to make an emergency call once when we came upon a guy who had been seriously injured in a bike accident. The fact that it had GPS turned out to be a real life saver because we were off on a bike path - so I wasn't sure of our exact location or how to tell the ambulance where to find us. But they were able to pull up our exact location so help arrived in just a few short minutes.

    So... there are some good things about the devices. But the way I see it, the problem comes with how people use them. I sorta think of them as the crack cocaine of technology. Cocaine, in and of itself is actually a useful pain killing medication when used properly - the problem is that people get addicted and use it for all the wrong reasons!

    So if becoming a zombified shell of a human being is what you're after, by all means, have at it! Otherwise I say, use with discretion! :-)

    1. If you use a smart phone for work, you are not targeted by the above rant, ha. :-)

      Without the addictive properties, portable devices would be way nicer.