My daughter is laughing at me. Having received an iPhone as a present, I went to the library to get books on how to use it. “It’s all instinctive,” she says. “After I do something over and over, then it will be instinctive,” I reply.
I certainly wouldn’t have bought an iPhone for myself, particularly after last Thanksgiving. At a lovely table, surrounded by close friends, our host suggested that we go around sharing what we were particularly thankful for this past year. His rule was that family and health not be mentioned, prodding us to look past the true and important for more subtle blessings. To my amazement, two of the women present mentioned their iPhones. Not as one of many devices which improves their lives, but rather with the specificity and tone of voice usually reserved for a love-struck teen waxing rhapsodic about the adorable local lifeguard. As a bit of a contrarian, that was enough to convince me that I didn’t want one of those machines.
But with one in hand, I have to admit that I have a sense of what my friends meant. I am discovering that the phone really does do some amazing things and is actually surprisingly easy for even a non-digital-native to manipulate. I have learned to download apps and find it very useful while traveling to have the Grace after Meals as well as an entire Siddur (prayer book) weightlessly at my beck and call. However, one of the apps that I was told is a ‘must have’, namely Angry Birds, is giving me pause.
I try (often unsuccessfully) not to have a knee-jerk reaction that the more old-fashioned way is the better way. While not exactly a first adapter, I love the fact that I can Skype with my daughter overseas and that I can order a wedding present without trekking to the local mall. Nonetheless, I am worried at the speed with which technology is replacing the rest of life. I have been reading Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. In it, he makes the point that our brains are stimulated towards creative thinking in certain ways. We’ve all experienced putting a problem out of mind while we take a stroll or a shower and having a “Eureka” moment as the solution pops into our head. I have frequently had that experience while working on a jigsaw puzzle or doing some needlepoint. My mind is concentrating on my task just enough to stop me obsessing on a specific topic, but not so intently that my subconscious is distracted from chewing over whatever challenges I am facing.
But what happens when our ‘down time’ is not spent strolling, showering or in some other activity which engages our brains while still leaving room for rumination? Instead the task at hand completely absorbs us. I don’t know how many hours people are granting to games like Angry Birds, but judging by the T-shirts, pillows and other accessories based on the game, I have to think the answer is many. There are hundreds of other similarly captivating games of which I am unaware. I’m not about to declare these games the greatest threat to civilization (I’m not even willing to state that I will never, under any circumstances, play), but I do think there is a qualitative difference between these down-time activities and previous generations’ fads. Rather than the recess that refreshes, could today’s leisure activities of choice be the pause that numbs?
(If I may make a suggestion, a better use of spare time this summer might be spent reading my husband’s book, Thou Shall Prosper, which is on sale this week or my good friend, Judy Gruen’s just-released and very funny book, Till We Eat Again.)