World of gadgets

Do we really need all these electronic contraptions?

Ginny McReynolds is dean of humanities and social science at Cosumnes River College.

When the second generation of the iPhone came out, every gadget guru I know rushed out to get one. And why wouldn’t they? Who wouldn’t want one device that tracks your appointments, takes pictures, provides games when you’re bored, lets you read your e-mail, keeps you updated on the most recent headlines, and lets you chat and text with every person you ever knew?

But that day was probably also the last time I had more than 10 seconds of eye contact with my iPhone-owning friends. Since then, their gazes have been focused on their flying fingers as they sweep from their Twitter accounts to blank screens where they can write fascinating things like “C U L8r.”

At a meeting last week, three of the four of us in attendance used some kind of electronic device to schedule our next meeting, while the fourth brought in a cumbersome wall calendar with pictures of Yosemite on it. He had only tiny squares to write in, but he seemed much less frenetic about planning a simple meeting than the rest of us.

I’m not anti-electronics, honest. I don’t think I could run one block without Van Morrison singing on my iPod, and I have completely forgotten how to change the TV channel without a remote.

But I think we’ve gone too far.

I don’t know that I really need to see pictures of a dinner party I’ve been to the moment I arrive home from it. Part of looking at photos is having the chance to slow down and reminisce. Even with my bad memory, I am perfectly capable of recalling the event when it’s only 20 minutes later.

Ironically, although many of these gizmos are designed to “enhance” our communication, I can’t remember the last time I got out some beautiful stationery and wrote a deeply personal letter to someone. E-mail has become my way of connecting, along with quick messages left on cell phones and wall postings on Facebook. It’s sad to me that some of my friends know more about my Bejeweled Blitz scoring record than they do about how I’m feeling in my life.

I suppose, all in all, it’s a happy medium I’m looking for. I don’t mind taking a grainy photo on my cell phone if I’ve forgotten my camera, but I’d probably be just as happy if I stopped and enjoyed the moment, held it in my brain and heart, and didn’t have to spend 10 minutes digging through my purse for something electronic to capture it. I like it that I can heat water in 10 seconds if it means it’ll give me more time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee with my partner, but fast just to be fast—convenience simply for convenience—seems pointless.

Granted, our world of new contraptions lets me do more in less time, but in the end I find myself with more time and much less of anything real to show for it.