Sunday, September 07, 2008

I still don't have a cell phone. My brain is...changing. I've been having more actual conversations with people. When I speak with others, I'm no longer constantly prepared to respond to something in my pocket. A part of my attention has been freed up, and it wanders around like a will-o-wisp, attracting stray thoughts and keeping them company.

I am able to become more immersed in a conversation, even lost. Often, whomever I'm speaking with receives a communication on their cell phone, breaks eye contact, and responds to it. It only takes a few moments, but when it happens I feel a flash of disorientation that leaves me blinking slowly as if waking from a nap.

The short bursts of communication are common now, and often convenient, but I didn't realize before how much it has altered the way we converse. Cell phone conversations have an average life expectancy of mere minutes. I remember being annoyed when a conversation took more than five minutes and I didn't feel "prepared" for such a lengthy interaction.

I'm regaining the ability to prioritize information. I can't just fire off random thoughts. I still think them, certainly, but over time the least relevant ones drop off because, well, they're what I would have said had I been sharing the same experience with a person, like driving in car together or watching the same film. Cell phones allowed me to have imaginary experiences with people, in a way, that I felt I could always share with them.

But what I'm sharing isn't really sharing. I thought of them, but wherever they were they did not think of me, because they were having a different experience. All my cheerful text messages contained shadows on a wall.

Neal Stephenson, a writer I enjoy immensely, has a few of the same concerns I do, and perhaps we all have felt one time or another. His new book, Anathem, touches upon it, as this interview reveals.

So I'll continue wandering along without that particular technology. Perhaps in fifty years or so, I'll get a cell phone again, just like I had when I was a kid.

For now, I think I'll enjoy the story of my life as much as I can because, as is true of many of the stories we share, to appreciate it, you really had to be there.