What we do without WiFi

One of the most frustrating aspects of my JVC year will be the lack of WiFi in the house. Of all the attachments in my life, my addiction to instant information is the hardest to break.

And I’m not alone in my house. We’re all suffering from separation anxiety, but it was the strong recommendation of JVC that we choose to spend what little extra cash we have on other things, like frozen custard and Brewers games.

To convince us that we really don’t need technology like we think we do, the staff brought in a former JV, Greg Baker, to explain the difference between a tool and a device.

It’s a little like the riddle game, Fannee Doolee. A piano is a tool, whereas an iPod is a device. A wood-burning stove is a tool, a microwave is a device. They accomplish the same end, but there’s a component missing from the device that is crucial to the tool: human interaction. The piano and the stove both need to be taught through a mentorship relationship. Yes, the device involves less effort, but it also involves less opportunity for connection.

Toward the end of Greg’s lecture, he asked us to come up with our own examples, and one of my favorites was the difference between shopping in a living, breathing store and shopping on Amazon. The store doesn’t always have what you want in your size, but something as insignificant as interacting with a sales person gives you a little of what you need.

It brought to mind a trip to my favorite bookstore in Portland, Powell’s Books, when I came across a 1940’s copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Published during World War II, this copy had both a message from the author promoting war bonds and a note that it was published on a certain type of paper to conserve resources for the war effort.

That, to me, was a connection to the past and the people there that I could never have made had I bought the book off of Amazon. As convenient as it is to have a Kindle for traveling or commuting, it saddens me to think that we’re losing the experience of bookstores and hard-copy books.

This is all not to say that technology is inherently evil. I love having encyclopedias at my fingertips, and I practically lived off of microwaved popcorn in college, but if we don’t at least acknowledge the hidden effects of our quickly changing environment, we can’t possibly use our devices mindfully.

We’ll have to, if we want to live fulfilling lives. In all these examples, and in the case of most devices, the message seems to be that eliminating human interaction will make us happier, when really, that connection is the only thing that has ever make us happy.

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