Closing my laptop tonight, I realized I had spent the majority of the day on the computer. I started to sigh at myself, a slow breath of guilt for the wasted time, but realized I actually. . . I felt fulfilled.
This never happens to me.
In fact, my thesis work revolved around a notion of technology as divider rather than connector.
I’ve written pages and pages about the barren psychological landscape created by substituting screens for faces and allowing the keyboard to communicate instead of the wondrously subtle emotional expressions conveyed by facial muscles, body posture, physical presence.
I was shocked to find that when I reflected on my day, it was with a sense of satisfaction.
Checking email in the living room over breakfast tea, I found a message from my roommate, now back home at her parents. She’d gone downstairs to get cardstock for thank-you notes and found herself knee-deep in old family photos, then scanned the highlights and sent them to me. I called my mom over and we marveled together at some of the coincidental similarities between favorite photos from my infancy, and odd haircuts during the awkward middle years. This led us to dig up some of my old photos. We found the files on old laptop which mom had scanned in for a slide-show on the occasion of my high school graduation. We sat side by side, laughing and remembering. Surprisingly, I don’t need to moan over how the screen just isn’t the same as holding a photograph in your hand. Yes, there is something magical about film and the object-ness of an old family photo. But there they were, a wonderfully higgledy-piggledy assortment of photos from my youth, and when we were finished, I didn’t have to put them away, nor did my fingers smell must. I marked a few to email in response.
Mom and I went downtown to take some pictures at my dad’s small embellishment shop, and I spent most of the afternoon working on a quickstart flash website for my dad’s store. Later, I showed him the design and tweaked things after his feedback, then taught him how to use the editor to make changes himself, a very here and now experience. In the middle of all this, I got a call from a friend back in St. Louis about some t-shirts we were hoping to have my dad print, and she sent me the scans she’d made of various wood-cuts we intended to layer as screen prints. Sending files back and forth, we determined a new configuration which would work with just one screen.
On facebook, I received a post from a friend with a lovely video about biking, saw that a friend was biking from Denver to Portland, OR and got to send encouragement, and best of all connected with a friend from Joplin who had been incommunicado since the tornado, and was grateful to hear that he and his family were safe, although mourning the great blow to their community.
This thought, that tonight, rather than being like so many nights in college, where I wasted away time I thought I should have spent studying perusing facebook albums or wandering around wikipedia, feeling guilty that I was neither writing that paper, or engaging with people–this night–I used the internet to connect with people, to love and serve and be productive. Finally, I experienced technology as a neutral tool, and not an inherently anti-human mediator. Like fire, communication media is a good servant and a bad master, and has obvious risks. But that doesn’t necessarily mean, as I had thought, that it is only good if used sparingly. I spent many hours using the internet today. And still used it well. This surprise that led me back to the screen to reflect here on the unexpected joy of a day spent using technology, and using it well.