Sometimes strength is simply avoided weakness

Long-time readers of this blog and Cites & Insights may have figured out that our household is a little light on tech and media toys. I know some folks think of me as a Luddite in this regard. We don’t have a cell phone on standby all the time. We don’t own an iPhone or any other smart phone. We don’t own any iPod or ereader of any sort. I do have a tiny little 4GB Sansa Express MP3 player (actually a 2GB player, to which I later added a 2GB microSD chip), but it doesn’t even get used that much except on my increasingly-rare travels. Heck, we don’t even own an HDTV (yet, although I hope to remedy that lack soon) or a DVR…and our cable service is “basic basic,” that is, broadcast stations, a couple of shopping channels, four (why so many?) local access channels (you can watch a lot of local council and board meetings, if you’re so inclined), Discovery, and WGN. For $15/month.

Oh, we have wifi (for my wife’s notebook–mine’s plugged directly into the router) and DSL (but only 2Mb download speed, 0.5Mb upload), and we both use computers a lot–but my “notebook” is a notebook in name only (I’ve used it once in a place other than my desk, and that was because our DSL was out for a week after we changed houses–thank heavens for public libraries!), and my wife always uses her notebook in the same place. Both notebooks are relatively cheap Vista devices, both with Core2 Duo CPUs, one two years old, one three+ years. I’ll move to W7 any day now, my wife probably a little later.

We may get a Wii when we get an HDTV. We may not. We’ll probably get a DVR, since our S-VHS VCR will become largely useless…and maybe we’ll replace the freebie DVD player that we’ve been using for two years now with a Blu-ray player. Eventually. (We’re not complete Luddites. We do have Netflix–at the 3-movie level–and watch one movie a week that way, along with an hour or so of TV or old series on other nights. The third “movie” is for TV series we don’t think we’ll want to watch more than once.)

No hairshirts here

Why don’t we have lots of gadgets? Not because we couldn’t afford them (even now, we can afford most anything we really want). Partly because we both hate shopping. Partly because my wife, decades ago, brought me around to her way of thinking: “You don’t buy something unless you’re sure you’re going to use it.” But there’s more to it than that.

In my case, specifically, it’s not because I feel superior to those wasting their time with constant email checking, twittering, channel surfing on the 500-channel deluxe cable/satellite, and all that jazz.

Rather, it’s (partly) because I suspect I would be entirely comfortable with constant email checking, twittering, rechecking FriendFeed, channel surfing, trying out new apps…and, frankly, I don’t think I’d get much writing done. Or much serious reading either.

I’m not a great multitasker. OK, so I don’t think anybody’s a great multitasker when it comes to getting serious stuff done–but I’m not a great multitasker, period. If I’m checking email, I’m not reading a newspaper, magazine, or book–and I’m not writing. If I’m channel-surfing, I’m not focusing.When I read magazine articles during commercials in broadcast TV, I don’t really get much out of the articles–which, for some articles, is fine. I’ve learned never to try to read a book I actually care about under those circumstances.

I don’t listen to music when I’m writing or when I’m reading. That’s because I care about the music that I listen to–and if it’s playing, I’ll find myself focusing on the music. Consider it a weakness: I can’t focus very well on more than one thing at a time. (We don’t subscribe to Entertainment Weekly–which I could actually get at this point for free, for some about-to-expire miles on an airline I almost never use–partly because we’re not hip to all the latest stars, but partly because I’d read the damn thing, cover to cover, and just don’t want to spend that much time. The same goes in spades for The New Yorker–would I ever have time for anything else?)

Avoided weakness

I don’t think it works this way for a lot of my virtual friends. I think many of you do just fine at juggling the toys and real attention.

I don’t.

Yes, I write a lot, and did even when I had a full-time job. That’s a strength, I suppose, but I could only do it by avoiding too many distractions. So, if it’s a strength, it’s mostly an avoided weakness.

Is this another “Why I’m Not Likely to Buy an iPad” piece–one that has nothing to do with my general dislike of the Jobs Reality Distortion Field and closed environments? Maybe. I suspect that, if I owned an iPod Touch or an iPad, I’d like it a lot–and I’d spend a lot of time with it that I could otherwise spend reading, thinking, writing. For now, I’ve made my choice. For others, who balance such things better than I do, you may note that, unlike Cory Doctorow, I have not the slightest intention of suggesting that anybody else shouldn’t buy an iPad. Unless you’re finding that things are out of control (financially, in terms of balance, or in terms of better uses of your time), you should follow your joy.

4 Responses to “Sometimes strength is simply avoided weakness”

  1. Kate W says:

    Excellent entry. I, too, try to choose the tools and toys I know I will use – and the things that allow me to keep a balance.

    Do you ever feel, though, like this sort of personal choice is not acceptable to some in the library world? I’ve had too many encounters with librarians and bosses-of-librarians who think that if you don’t use an iPad/twitter/toolofchoice at home, then you are a shushing, behind-the-trends lazybones. Gee whiz, I always want to say when this sort of thing comes up, if it’s part of my job, I will be happy to learn/teach/use it at work! Really! I can keep up with the newest trends while paid, too – with my feed reader and some good library blogs, among other resources. But if early-adopter-with-my-own-money-and-time-in-the-guise-of-prof-dev is what you want in an employee, I guess I’m not the librarian for you. Or maybe I could be, but only if you paid me twice as much and hired me a professional chef, bedtime reader, and dresser.

    I wish we all felt much more calm about the technologies we use and don’t – and especially felt much more calm about the technologies others use or don’t.

  2. Bob Watson says:

    Choosing would be a lot easier if technology wasn’t being pushed quite so hard by tech companies (or pulled quite so hard by a very small minority of uber-users).

    The issue of “what shakes out in the end” doesn’t really seem to have an “end” anymore, merely a swiftly passing popularity.

    Personally, the limiting factor is my older eyesight. Using a cellphone for anything more complicated than dialing means finding my reading glasses.

  3. walt says:

    Thanks both–and, since I don’t allow linkbacks, I should point out this post by Catherine Pellegrino, which honors my casual thoughts by treating them more seriously than I did.

    As for eyesight, since I’ve always worn glasses (well, since age 5), and given the miracle of super-high-density plastic lenses and effective blended bifocals, I can read 6pt. type without too much difficulty…although, without my glasses, I can barely tell there’s a screen in front of me.

  4. Ivan Chew says:

    A friend of mine once called these things Weapons of Mass *Distractions* 🙂