the winter of our disconnect: chapter 4

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“Once untethered, I experienced such a heady lightness of being. There really was nothing to crave… as much as I loved the sensation of carrying the world around in my pocket, I’d forgotten how heavy it could get.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

In this chapter, Maushart talks about her obsession with her iPhone and with constant connectedness. She quotes Tony Norman from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “If you ever want to know what was going through Frodo Baggins’ mind as he stood clutching the evil ring over the lava pit of Mt. Doom in The Return of the King, buy an iPhone.” Maushart’s personal account of her iPhone addiction is hilarious, but she relates her experiences to our culture’s increased need to be connected. We respond to message dings and email notifications as if we were Pavlov’s dog; that’s probably an exaggeration, but we have been conditioned to find these cues fairly unignorable. It’s always hilarious to me when I call my mother and she answers (after presumably searching frantically for her phone) in the middle of the checkout, proceeding to tell me in a stressed, slightly-elevated tone that she’ll “have to call me back!” (and yes, I’ve done it, too). Why do we feel compelled to answer? There’s this crazy invention called voicemail that can help us in situations such as these. I imagine many factors, including our conditioning, are at play; I also suspect it has something to do with the instant gratification we’ve come to know and love.

The chapter also briefly delves into the subject of how technology affects us. “So many of our standards–of normalcy, of effectiveness, of propriety, of safety–are consequences of our technologies.” Maushart supports this statement with examples like “the yearning to produce whiter-than-white cuffs and collars” because the latest clothes-washing technology makes it possible (therefore, it becomes the new standard). If you think about it, this applies to virtually all of our  conveniences.

She also describes in her own words the common notion of viewing our phones (and other media) as extensions of ourselves. We personalize them by giving them names (her iPhone was deemed iNez), buying them jewelry (which I still don’t understand) and accessorizing them with wallpapers and ringtones. Maushart had a friend who was still toting around a phone from the nineties, saying that he “doesn’t care”. This claim serves to reaffirm what Maushart is trying to say – we use these devices to, among other things, send a message about the kind of people we are.

This chapter also has some interesting commentary on parenting in the current technological environment. I won’t get into this topic now, especially since I’m not a parent and can’t truly relate, but she definitely makes some interesting points about the benefits and downfalls of increased connectivity in relation to parent/child relationships.

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