Dan Levy: Technology Overload

Dan Levy on the advantages of growing up unplugged

Dan Levy: Technology Overload

Photo by Luke Wooden

My name is Dan and I’m a technoholic.

I was raised before the advent of DVD players in cars and iPads at the dinner table. I never knew about tweeting or Facebook or Instagram or blogging. The sole forms of social interaction I was aware of as a kid involved a jungle gym and a sticker book. It was only in high school that ICQ—a prehistoric form of instant messaging—was first incorporated into my cultural vocabulary.

 I often wonder what my childhood would have been like had I been exposed to all the ridiculous forms of social interaction and numerous technological distractions that I have at my disposal now. Would I still have experienced the flutter of butterflies in my stomach after asking my crush for an extra pen in science class if I had known they were a chronic over-sharer on Twitter? Would I have studied as hard for exams if I knew the answers were posted on a friend’s Tumblr? It’s hard to say. But if I were to take my current dependence on all these new digital distractions as any indication, I’m thankful I had a few years growing up where my focus was on interacting with actual human beings.

In my head I’m a purist that doesn’t require anything but a group of good friends and a
bottle of wine. In reality, I’m co-dependent on my iPhone and fully conscious of the fact that my attention span is corroding.

I’ll be the first to judge parents who allow their kids to watch movies on their laptops in a restaurant—a shocking display of familial disconnection I witnessed not too long ago. But then again, how can I judge them when I occasionally check my phone at dinner? It’s a problem, I know. But at least I’m able to admit it—isn’t that the first step to recovery?

The reason I bring this whole issue up is because in sitting down to write this column I had an out-of-body experience: For a brief moment I was able to look down and see myself attempting to write. I had my phone by my side, my iPod playing on my portable speaker system and a computer screen-tiled with a hundred open windows. I wasn’t experiencing writer’s block, I was experiencing
a stimulation overdose!

It was a moment of clarity; a moment from which I was able to acknowledge that I have a problem. Over a decade after leaving my parents’ home and venturing out on my own, I’ve completely spoiled myself—something my parents spent the better part of their lives making sure didn’t happen (partly because they wanted me to know the value of a dollar and partly because they knew that I teetered on the brink of ADD, and overstimulation would have pushed me over the edge—turns out they were right on both accounts).

So I suppose, looking back, I’m glad my childhood was free of all of these modern toys; that I know what it was like to have never had a cellphone vibrating in my pocket; that there are a few early chapters in my life where “tagging” someone was merely a game played in a park.

I know I’m not alone—Apple must be ruining so many more lives than just mine—so my question is this: Where do we go from here? If I were really savvy I’d invest in rehab facilities for the electronically addicted. But at the moment I don’t think I have the focus to follow through on the idea.