So I was walking to the laundromat yesterday when my cell phone started to vibrate in my pocket. Reaching into my pocket, my first thought was, "Who's calling me at 7:30?" My second thought was "Wait -- my cell phone is charging on my dresser."
I'm fairly certain that people 10 years ago didn't suffer from Phantom Cell Phone Syndrome. I know for a fact that before I got my phone, I never imagined that one day I would have nerves in my thigh so highly attuned that they could feel vibrations that didn't exist. And maybe this will go away with the advent of new cell phones; maybe once they get to the point where they just place a microchip in your ear and you can connect to Uncle Albert on Mars, I'll stop imagining that people are calling the phone I don't have in my pocket.
But maybe that's the way it is with technology. For every jump we take in making our lives easier, there's always a catch. It can't be a new thing, though. I'm sure someone in ancient Rome must have been overheard saying, "Well, this whole running water thing seems to be great, but I find myself compulsively having to wash my hands 15 times before I enter the Vomitorium."
I'm not talking about those FDA-approved wonder-drugs that supposedly make you lose weight, cure cancer, and stain your furniture a nice maple only to find out three years later that they also make your genitals fall off. I'm talking about advances in technology that wind up giving us all something to complain about in areas that we didn't even know existed before.
Another example from my life: I recently upgraded my cable box to a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), essentially a combination cable box/computer that lets you record two shows at once while watching the pre-recorded show of your choice. It's pretty cool. And at first I loved it.
It's great not having to race home from work to catch the opening joke on "Joey"; I can actually saunter if I want. I can stay late at work. I can meet up with a friend for dinner. And I won't miss my shows. In addition, because it can record two shows simultaneously, I no longer have to decide between "West Wing" and "The O.C." Sounds great, right?
I think it's a conservative estimate to say that I currently have 14 hours of unwatched television saved on my DVR right now. Fourteen hours. The thing, supposedly, holds up to 30 hours or so, so I don't worry about running out of space, but 14 hours? That means my next free weekend will have to be two full days of just watching television from two weeks ago.
Yeah, that worked out.
Obviously, it's not just happening to me. Everyone you talk to has a story about some new "better-life" technology that should come with its own warning label. "Warning: hitting the snooze button too much will result in getting fired." "Caution: manufacturer is not liable if cable modem results in massive virus upload." "Beware: in-car directional tracking system will not tell you if you're about to rear-end the guy in front of you because you're too busy staring at the map."
One massive solution/headache that springs to mind is e-mail. What a great concept. Near instant messages, floating over the transome, arriving almost immediately, taking the place of what has since become known as "snail-mail"; it now takes just as little time to send a letter to your mother as it does to send a professional query to a colleague in Moscow or a photo of Tara Reid's boob to ultra-conservative U.S. Representative Pete Sessions (PeteS@mail.house.gov).
However, as I've said, with every boon comes a related drawback. In this case, it's the absolute overhaul of social rules. E-mail has completely screwed over those of us who finally learned the correct protocal for the telephone's use in relationships. Just when we thought we'd figured it out ("If you like her, call her on Monday or Tuesday."), e-mail comes along and as much of a benefit as it is, bolluxes up the whole works.
A few months ago, I found myself in the back of a taxi, kissing a girl I thought I really liked. She was brutally cute, smart, funny, and sweet. We did not have sex that night. So I figured, "I know the rules. I'll call her in a day and see if she wants to make plans to go on a date." I, being the astute gentleman I am, called and left her a message that I had enjoyed "the other night" and wanted to know if she was free for the weekend.
She e-mailed me back to say she'd gotten my phone call.
For those of you who don't know the implications, allow me to elucidate: 1) So she responded. That means she's interested, right? Well, not necessarily, she chose to respond using a medium that doesn't require one-on-one communication (i.e., talking). But she didn't ignore your call? No, however, I don't know whether it indicates that she was interested or not because it's an e-mail; not 100% personal. Also, she didn't express an interest one way or the other in getting together. So just ask her again. Okay, do I call her or e-mail her? Would e-mailing back be appropriate because she e-mailed first? Or would it imply that I just wanted a friendship? But if I call again, do I look too desperate? Too pushy? What if I call and she e-mails me again? Maybe she sees the phone and e-mail as being essentially the same. Or maybe she's deliberately sending mixed signals? Is she trying to tone things down or not? Am I reading too much into this, and even if I am, what's the best way to respond to her letter?
You get the idea. Needless to say, I was so wrapped up in figuring out the symbolism of her letter that I missed the window of opportunity for a response and never talked to her again.
Next time I'll just use smoke signals.
And if that little insight didn't drive it home, you may be amused to know that a friend of mine a couple weeks ago asked if she could break up with a guy over e-mail. Um, no. But the fact that remains that it's possible; as I said, overhaul of social rules. Everyone's confused.
I can tell you still don't believe me. There are those of you saying, "Okay, sure he's got those examples, but they don't relate to me at all." To those of you who feel that technology doesn't always come with a price, I ask if you've ever lost a television remote.
I'm old enough to remember when one had to change the TV by hand. I remember our first cable box with the click buttons that you had to keep changing the channel assignments for. For 40 years, people actually stood up and walked over to the TV to turn it on or off, to change channels, to (before cable) adjust the reception. Now, and I'm not the first to say this, people will search for hours to find the remote just so they don't have to stand up. I love irony.
And beyond that, I know I'm not the only one who has to play remote control bingo just to avoid that whole "standing" thing. Currently, I have 5 remotes: my TV, my cable box, my stereo, my VCR, and my DVD player. The cable remote can turn on the cable, the TV, and the VCR, but can't change the signal input on the TV. It can turn my stereo off, but not on, and every time I press the stereo button, the VCR turns off. The VCR remote sometimes turns my stereo on, sometimes doesn't. My stereo remote controls my speaker volume, and occasionally the VCR, but can't turn on the TV. My TV remote controls only the TV. My DVD remote can't turn on my stereo, but can control the volume on it. It took my ex-girlfriend two weeks to figure out how to watch anything when I wasn't home. I think she was ahead of the learning curve on that one, too.
I tell ya, even good technology can be evil.
My point is simply this -- next time someone is raving to you about their latest gadget, or you see a commercial for something that you just have to have, remember there's no such thing as a free lunch. And just as digital watches in the early '80s helped create a class of pretentious morons who felt the need to show off their digital watches, so can any new invention come with a price.
I do feel as though the benefits usually outweigh the costs, though you might not agree the next time you're forced to listen to the "cool" new ringtone on my cell phone when I get a call. Cross your fingers, though, because if you're lucky that call will just be me imagining my leg is vibrating silently.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.8.04 @ 12:45a
Honey, your leg vibrates?
And you're still single?
12.8.04 @ 12:48a
I was wondering that, too, Tracey--but my innate Southern genteelness chose now of all times to raise its fan and swat my arm for considering asking the question.
Which makes me wonder how Scarlett O'Hara would have handled the technology onslaught--if she lost the TV remote would she wait until tomorrow to look?
12.8.04 @ 3:00a
Well, it doesn't actually vibrate, unless I want it to. It just feels to me like it's vibrating. I think.
12.8.04 @ 4:37a
Hahaha, the vibrating thing happens to me, except it's my left boob...
Seriously, if my phone is not in my shirt pocket, my boob gets tingly when I least expect it thinking it's my phone.
This is a great column, though. I feel the same way.
And just how in the hell can you remember what controls exactly what?
12.8.04 @ 7:26a
I identify with this. There are five remote controls on my coffee table, and I only know how to use one. I've heard my cell phone ring when it's not with me (but speaking of cool ringtones, mine plays Fatboy Slim), and the other day when an alarm went off it took me a couple minutes to figure out if it was my Palm Pilot or my watch.
12.8.04 @ 12:35p
Sadly, the remote control situation is more complex than I let on. There's a button on my cable remote that says "system on/off". Turns out what this means is that whatever appliances in my system are on will be turned off and vice-versa. Again, not 100% useful. I don't need to turn my DVD player on when I'm trying to shut everything else off. I'm still amazed that my remote can turn my stereo off, but not on.
Anyone else have ailiments that can be traced right back to new technology?
12.8.04 @ 3:51p
No ring tone can possibly be cooler than your "Magnum P.I." jingle.
12.8.04 @ 4:28p
You should have emailed back after she emailed. That was her way of choosing your method of communication. Perhaps it wasn't that she was uninterested, just wanted to take a more casual approach. Like coffee or a drink instead of committing to a whole dinner on a first date. If she really wasn't interested, she wouldn't have even emailed.
12.9.04 @ 7:31a
I love the old cable boxes with the click buttons. My mom's TV in her basement still uses it. It works like a charm. Of course, it doesn't go as high as there are channels, but hey, who needs to watch channel 97?
12.9.04 @ 11:31a
Channel 97? Isn't that "The Fish and Burlap Channel," or something?
Thanks for the heads up, Heather. Actually, I called her once more, and she sent another e-mail. That's when I went into indecision shock and lost my chance.
12.9.04 @ 12:41p
It's easy. If she Emails back to say "I had a fun time, it was nice to meet you," she's probably not interested. If she Emails back to say "I had a fun time, we should do it again," she's interested.
I met a guy once who didn't call me because I gave him my work number, and he thought that meant that I didn't want him to call me. No. Dude. If I don't give you my number at all, THAT means I don't want you to call me.
12.9.04 @ 3:24p
Yeah. We have no idea, being guys and all. Sometimes girls give out fake numbers because they don't want to be rude enough to say "no." Sometimes, we assume they're sending subtle signals that they're not really interested.
Honestly, unless a girl calls me for a date, I never know if she's really interested.
12.9.04 @ 5:25p
'Cause making out in the backseat of a taxi means nothing except she's wearing martini glasses for a bra.
dr. jay gross
12.9.04 @ 8:10p
The vibration in your pocket, against your thigh....did that happen before or after the e-mail response from the 'cute'target? - technology has had a pseudo effect on social psychology. Go back to the basics and short-circuit her (or the next pursuit)by avoiding the digital dance....send her a virtual bouquet!!
12.10.04 @ 10:38a
You call her, she emails you and then you freeze up? Sheesh. It's technology foreplay. The appropriate response would have been to text message her phone. If you get to toothing you're golden!
12.10.04 @ 4:56p
That's brilliant. I wish I'd thought of it.
12.12.04 @ 6:31a
There's a new cool remote thingie that ('only') costs like $150 that takes all your remotes and combines them into one big, giant remote. I think it even maybe makes your morning coffee. My remote for my DVR broke this morning and I haven't been able to watch anything except for the TV Guide channel all day, so I only know what I missed. There is probably irony in that but then again maybe not.
12.14.04 @ 1:07p
Dammit. I know I had something to say, but I had to recreate my account because Intrepidmedia no longer had me logged in and I have no idea which email address I originally signed up with. Damn technology.