Friday, December 10, 2010

am i missing out?

Over at Cyclocross Magazine's site there is live coverage of the US National Cyclocross Championships. Included in the coverage is a large column in the center of the page showing a constantly-rotating, updating twitter feed, with hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks sending 140-character "tweets" about the action in Bend -- as it's happening before their eyes.

For those without a modern cell phone -- like me -- the only way to watch this little drama unfold is to sit in front of a computer all afternoon. Since that's more time than I'd like to spend staring at a computer (especially on my day off), I am content to wait for emailed race reports, or blog updates, from friends who are fast enough (or just crazy enough) to go to Bend. I can read these at my leisure; and if it's not moments but hours or even days after the fact, does it matter?

Apparently, for the millions of folks with modern touch-screen phones, the answer is yes.

Sweetie and I were given a cell-phone about seven years ago, from a friend who wanted to be able to find us at a large music festival in Seattle that saw over 40,000 visitors a day. He programmed it with a Portland area code, loaded it with minutes, told me how to load it with more at my local Radio Shack, and said we could decide if we liked having a cell phone enough to keep it. (If we didn't we could donate it to a womens' shelter when the minutes ran out.) We decided it might be handy for traveling, and every ninety days I have continued to top it off with the minimum amount of money to keep the number active. It's far cheaper doing it this way than buying an actual monthly plan; and so far the phone has continued to work just fine. It's primitive by current standards (instead of a touch screen, it has actual buttons you push to dial the number, and a stubby little "antenna", and sometimes it turns on accidentally if you sit on it the wrong way), but as long as it works we'll keep it. (It does allow for texting, and I have successfully sent four or five text messages in the seven years we've had the phone; but my slow keypad speed and very large thumbs make texting ridiculous, so when I do use the cell-phone, I just dial a number and talk into the phone. Apparently, this option is now becoming quaintly old-fashioned among adults of a certain, younger age, all of whom can text with lightning speed -- and one handed, no less.)

I can count on my fingers the number of times I've actually needed to carry it with me in a given year -- another reason, along with the greater cost involved, that I haven't bothered to get a cell phone with a "real" plan.

Still, it's strange and occasionally disconcerting to have coffee with someone and watch their eyes dart back and forth from me to the myPhone or CrackBerry on the counter near their latte, as if they're waiting for something vital to pop up on the little screen that will demand and divert their attention away from our conversation. It's even more jarring to look around the cafe and see that I am often the only customer in the place not staring at a small, portable electronic device of some kind. It's not quite like a reversal of a scene from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, not yet anyway, though it definitely hints at that vibe.

But it begs the question: other than up-to-the-moment blasts of mostly trivial information, what am I really missing?
I feel more and more like a dinosaur, but not necessarily in a bad way, not like I'm the one being left behind. Instead, it feels sometimes like I am watching the rest of the world get on a bus to go someplace I don't yet feel a need to visit, much less live permanently.

What will happen if I don't get on this particular bus? Besides the fact that fewer of my friends will have time to communicate with me face-to-face, what will this mean for my socio-economic future? I don't know yet. In the meantime, there's a bike in the shed that needs some work, and once I fire up the space heater I'll be all toasty-warm in there while I sip on my coffee, listen to the radio and rummage through my tools for the right wrench with which to adjust my brakes.

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