I am sitting in a car’s backseat, traveling 70 miles per hour on a road trip to Atlanta, and am connected to the Internet. Sitting here, sipping a soda, I can read the news on international Web sites or check what the weather is like in Sydney, Australia (mostly cloudy, 57°F/14°C) by connecting my Macintosh PowerBook through my cell phone to the Web. Definitely cool, but does it really make my life any better?
Of course, there are certain times when it is really helpful. For journalists, this is a dream come true, as they can send stories or columns to their editors while still on the road. They can also do research for assignments. Current developments often happen so fast it is hard to keep up, so every second counts — even if you do not write for The Associated Press on a daily basis. (Baghdad, Iraq — sunny, 99°F/37°C)
For example, BBC World reports that the U.N. Security Council is calling an emergency session to discuss Israel’s air strikes in Syria. They just sent me an e-mail announcement with the breaking news. If I were writing a column on the role of the United Nations in the world community as I had originally planned, this would definitely be a tidbit that I would need to know about. (New York — clear, 46°F/ 8°C)
Just a couple of years ago I vowed never to get a cell phone, let alone one that allows me to connect to the Web. I never thought that within a matter of years, not only would I own one, but that it would become indispensable. I did not get one because I am a journalist. It’s true that I have to be easily contacted, but also it is very convenient to call up a friend or send friends abroad the occasional text message. (Cambridge, U.K. — partly cloudy, 46°F/ 8°C)
There are, however, times when cell phones are annoying. In almost every class I’ve been to lately, a cell phone goes off at least once. In one instance it was the professor’s.
And there are certain conversations I’d rather not listen to, either. The other day I overheard a girl’s confession about what she did, with whom and how often, on my way to class. (Reykjavik, Iceland — mostly cloudy, 34°F/ 1°C)
It’s difficult to imagine now, but I definitely remember a time when students were able to get by without a satellite hookup. There is no reason for me to be writing this in the back of a car, other than the fun I am having by trying it out. I could as easily have written a column this morning in the newsroom. (New Delhi — 79°F/ 26°C)
Yet, we are so comfortable with our gadgets that we rarely consider alternatives. Ironically, the things that are supposed to make our lives easier often make our lives more complex and stressful than they originally were.
During the recent blackout in New York, people were suddenly given a forced glimpse of what a life without gadgets would be like. For one evening, people rediscovered community. Neighbors knocked on each other’s doors to check if they were okay and impromptu street parties carried on late into the night. Of course, part of this can be attributed to people’s instinct to pull together during a crisis, but the incident was a gentle reminder that underneath the veneer of our technological fascination, we are still at our best when we interact with other people.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d sooner give up my car than part with my gadgets. But you have to keep these things in balance.
Nobody is forcing me to surf the Web while on a road trip. I could as easily spend my time, like generations of students before me, looking at the scenery or singing off-key along with Beatles songs. (Moscow, Russia — rain, 48°F/9°C)
Yes, playing with gadgets is actually a lot of fun. The trick seems to be knowing when to pull the plug.
The weather in Georgia is just fine, by the way.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science and is The Oracle’s Opinion Editor