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The Voice of New Rochelle: Technology’s Destruction of the Self

The author wants his life back. He feels that his smartphone, Facebook page and other electronic networking utilities are driving him—and all of us—to live a life driven by everyone else. We are, he opines, ever manipulated.

I once wrote a column complaining about texting that I now realize was naïve and not a little short sighted. I was truly blaming the messenger. I railed against the apparent demand that we become slaves to senders, while ultimately accepting the inevitability that I would indeed have to adapt to this new custom. Texting, preceded by e-mail, now joined by smartphones, Facebook, tweeting, and every other form of digital hyper communication, was now the way of the world.

I moaned, but I accepted it. Now, I take it all back.

If I may be allowed to corrupt one word from a famous Shakespeare quote, “the fault is not in our smartphones, but in ourselves.”

There is no law that says we have to check our non-work e-mail or text messages every time we take a breath. We are under no obligation to get back to anyone, save our boss (so long as this is the employable understanding), a sick child or spouse, instantly. Yet, we have been made to feel we have been delinquent or, worse, be subject to childish accusations of rudeness because we did not ease the angst of some impatient friend or relative.

Do we really need to know what are friends and associates are doing at every minute of the day? Do we really need to watch our favorite TV show so much that we allow what started as a cellphone to actually provide less quality service than the original devices that were really telephones? Why do we put up with the new “touch screen” smartphones that make calls we don’t intend, bring up applications we didn’t ask for or that allow incoming callers to pre-empt the calls we are on by making unnecessary alerts.

The devices themselves, in their effort to be cool, have become inexact. On doesn’t necessarily mean on, you never know when it’s really off and you never know—since name labels sometimes change themselves without prompt—whether you have said hello to your barber of your ex-wife. Indeed, this latter problem can end up disastrously.

Look, I know all these tools serve a purpose and are incredible achievements of technology. I, too, bought an Android phone that does everything, but me; though I am sure there will be an app for that soon. It’s just that I find all of these things are contributing to a quality of life I would rather live without.  

Already we are on the business end of marketing people, stockbrokers, publicists, politicians and carnival barkers all of whom have been trained to separate us from our money, or convince us to do things we do not want to do.  They have the latest poll and focus group results. They know that men will buy beer and macho, and women will buy—well—anything, especially if it has a list of the 10 best ways to get thin, trap a man or end a relationship. 

We are manipulated at every turn. And now, we are buying into a lifestyle where nothing is sacred or private, and where we are the targets of other people’s money-making schemes. First they train us to beg, and then they send the bone, an e-mail or advertisement for the male enhancement pill. No pun intended.

I am done. Soon, my smartphone will be replaced with a pay-as-you-go phone that only calls and texts. Yes, texts—at least you can tell someone to bug off without a protracted argument. My Facebook page, needed for my profession, will be “like only.” I will get back to people as it suits my schedule and need, and not just because.

But mostly, I will take my life back from a world that I have allowed to come dangerously close to telling me how to live.

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