The modern world makes me better informed, but not a better person

Atop of the line Apple iPhone costs $1,500; a  new Google Pixel 3XL will set you back almost a thousand bucks. “Absolutely outrageous!” Well, maybe. When you think of what a mobile device (it’s not just a phone anymore) has become, what it replaces, the cost actually seems quite reasonable.

The average user checks their device over 50 times a day. Millennials do so at almost three times that rate. Even worse, it is estimated that people “touch” their device over 2,600 times a day-that’s about twice each and every minute! The question we all ask, “Is it worth it?” Does this seemingly addictive thing make our lives better? Well, I suppose, it depends on the definition of “better.”

It certainly helps me be better informed. A significant number of my “touches” revolve around information gathering. In the morning I “squeeze” my “phone” and ask it, “What is going on today?” So here is the first hiccup of the day: not infrequently “it” will reply in a soothing, neutral female voice, “Here is the information on Tom Dee.” “No, no. What is going on TODAY?” Correcting the error, it replies, “Dave, here is your morning briefing” (The two of us are quite intimate).

It then launches into a synopsis of the top stories, including a survey of the financial markets, a rundown of sports scores and a tech update. In less time than it takes my Keurig to spit out a cup of coffee, I am abreast to the world news. Is it any wonder that newspapers are in decline (Except of course, the one that publishes my column).

Then, I must catch up on the important (and mundane) goings-on of friends, acquaintances and not-so-close contacts. I originally got on Facebook to (ostensibly) follow my kids. They left; I stayed. This source of social media is now for the over-40 crowd (and those advertisers trying to reach them…and the Russians). It can be addicting.

Moreover, I can snap pictures of all the things happening around me and upload them directly so my friends can vicariously participate in my “wonderful” life. Naturally, only the good stuff gets in, so the picture of our lives on the net is a distorted view of a sometimes difficult existence.

All of this “connectivity” comes at a price-security. Everyone else can find out what I’m doing; actually I freely give them the information. More insidiously virtually everything that identifies me is exposed, including my financial and medical records.

I used to keep a flip file with my passwords, it included such “secret” code words as my kid’s names and birthdays (yea I know, no one could figure that out). As the on-line accounts grew, so did the passwords, and I had to make them more complex…minimum of eight letters, with a number and a “special” character. (Ok, I’ll add a “1” and “?” to each and every crappy password I had). Then they started making me change the damn thing every 90 days.

So, now I have an App to keep track of them all (I know, I still have to change that every 90 days…but I have another secret code to do that). Actually, it is very cool. It will automatically fill in the required data. I have to tell the computer to let it do that. But, I don’t want that easy access on my mobile phone or laptop (I’m prone to leaving stuff around). Back to remembering at least one password.

Then they made my life easier. I can use my fingerprint to open the phone, that is unless I have been eating buffalo wings and the sauce gets on my fingers. I’m prone to do that too.

I can even image bar codes and store them in an electronic “wallet.” No more little card for the YMCA or Sam’s Club. I just whip out my phone and hold it over the scanner…until “beep…beep…beep” – “Ma’am can you help me with this?” as the line stacks up behind me.

I got an unlimited data plan, so I have disconnected from landlines, cable and even Dish, all of which became outrageously expensive. (In reality I could probably buy two phones a year with change to spare for the savings just doing that creates).

With YouTubeTV, I can get every sports channel known to man anywhere. I have actually viewed another SEC football game, while headed to Neyland Stadium to watch Tennessee play. (This year, the former provided more entertainment than the latter.)

I love the fact that I can do business from anywhere. I talk to a client and they can presume I’m hard at work at my office, when I am really on the golf course. This may be a bit annoying to my partners as they take a swing, but I can put it on “mute” for a moment with the speaker phone on while I take a shot. It doesn’t help my game, but then nothing does.

So this (relatively) small device bulging in my front pocket is a miracle. It’s far more powerful than the computers that broke the German Enigma code or sent the man to the moon. All at my fingertips, the world at my beck and call.

This doesn’t seem to make me any the wiser, more informed perhaps, but not necessarily “wiser.” It does occupy my time, but I also don’t waste any. No blank minutes waiting for the server to bring my food; better to catch up on the email in my “other” box. You never know when Amazon may have that certain special item that I didn’t even know I needed. (They have a creepy way of sending me absolutely compelling advertisements). Of course I “gave” them the data to figure that out.

Is my life better? In many ways, I believe it is. I’m more responsive to clients (which is also a burden). I make better informed (if not actually “better”) decisions. I stay connected to people I love far better than I ever could back in my formative years.

Yet, my life is also more hectic. Those very same clients often think it’s OK to call me at home on a weekend…and I feel obligated to respond. This has become the norm, not the exception. The line between work and leisure has all but disappeared. I am inattentive to those around me. (Yes, I’m sorry to say that have checked a text while my wife is talking to me).

On net, I guess I’m glad it’s in my life. I’m trying to disengage from “it” and re-engage with the real world. My wife and I agreed to forgo social media on our last vacation…not emails or texts, but it’s a start.


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