This is the Modem World: I'm giving up absolutely nothing

Joshua Fruhlinger
J. Fruhlinger|09.05.12

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This is the Modem World: I'm giving up absolutely nothing

Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

She looked at me, then at my phone and back at me. She was not pleased. Her eyes darted around the restaurant. They surveyed the other husbands, boyfriends and fiancés: Were they too ignoring their dates, checking sports scores, texting their buddies? Is my husband a jerk or is this a social pandemic?

"What would happen if your phone didn't exist and you had to talk to me?"

"But I am talking to you."

"No, you're looking at your phone."

"Right now, I am saying words to you. How is it that I am not talking to you at this very moment?"

I wasn't going to win this with semantics. No, I lost the moment I decided it was an appropriate time to grab my phone. And, to be fair, I was being a jerk. We were at a nice dinner and I should be into her, not my email, sports scores or Reddit.

So I put the phone away. I promised to not take it out for the rest of the night, a promise I kept. And we had a lovely evening.

Did I learn anything? Absolutely not. Will I pull my phone out again at dinner? Most likely. And she'll do the same thing at some point -- I've seen her Tiny Tower problem and it's ugly.

There are those who make a very public point of letting go of their technology. They want everyone to stop what they are doing and observe as they declare they will not text, email or Facebook for a month, a year or -- gasp -- forever. They station themselves atop an organic soap box and let us all know that they are technology martyrs and they are letting us know how great it is on the other side.

The results are always the same. First, some anxiety and dread. This is where we're told that technology is bad for us, that it's an addictive drug complete with withdrawal symptoms. Then the loneliness and depression are described in detail as we're reminded that technology has become a social crutch.

Then the fear: We're all doomed, so dependent on our tech that when the batteries die, so shall civilization.

Then, finally, exhilaration: The grass is indeed greener on the other side. Without the technology, we are pure, free beings. We communicate face to face. We go outside, we are healthy. We breathe.

Oh, stop.

The Cornell Daily Sun ran a piece on August 30 by a student whose smartphone died right before a holiday weekend. She first found anxiety and fear, and then, finally, freedom. And how did the piece conclude? She said she loved the experiment with freedom, but, really, she needs her phone. It ends with this quip: "Maybe I'll just never get a cellphone again! Yeah, right."

See what she did there? She showed us how funny it is that we're all so dependent on our devices, yet we're not going to give them up.

Are we really still interested in reading what happens to others when they give up technology? Is this still a topic of import? Isn't it too late? Shouldn't we just learn to live with tech and still be socially graceful? Is there any realistic scenario in which we all give up our gadgets?

The point is often missed in these "I'm giving up tech" articles. The conclusions are all too often overly large: that humanity is broken, that our devices are addictive drugs, that real social contact is in jeopardy. Instead, we should just learn to put our phones away when we have dinner with our wives and then return to them later at a more appropriate time. It's really not that big of a deal anymore. Yes, let's move on. The internet, smartphones, email, texting, social networking and even LOLCats are here to stay.

We just need to learn to be more agile when we choose to use our devices. We shouldn't text and drive (we'll kill other people), we shouldn't check baseball scores during dinner (we should respect our wives) and we should step outside and see our friends in person (it's healthy and beer is yummy).

None of this means we need to give up our stuff.

Let's celebrate our technology. Let's use it to be better humans, better drivers and better lovers. Text your friend for a drink. Email your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband and say something sweet. Meet your future significant other online. Get a laugh online. Technology can be a warm, fuzzy place.

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.

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