Friday, April 12, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Electronics Edition

Since I've been laid up at home with hyperemesis, I have watched my family's reliance on electronic devices skyrocket, so here on 7 Quick Takes Friday I bring unsourced, non-quotable random thoughts on this situation.

7 Things I Have Learned About Electronic Devices, and What I Plan to Do About It

1. They are unnecessary.
One home computer and a cell phone can achieve every function of an iPad, eReader, iPhone, etc. yet each member of the family has their own (or two, or three) devices. We have even replaced working devices with new ones over the past 6 months! To me, this is the epitome of excess consumerism. My 9 year old has been begging for his own iPhone for almost a year now because, well, why not? Why shouldn't he have his own little screen to play around with, get text messages on, do email, download solitaire and chess apps, play his music on iTunes, etc etc etc? How can I communicate "need" vs "privilege" to my children when we are surrounded by unnecessary objects?

2. They promote selfishness.
There have been many articles written about the social impact of every individual attuned to their particular electronic world. Even within the family home or car, each member has his own music, her own movie, his own shows/blogs/magazines. There is no further need for compromise or patience. When my husband was a child and his family took 18 hour car trips from CO to MI, they took turns listening to each others' music. My dad learned to appreciate Elton John and Jim Taylor, even though at the time all he wanted was to listen to Thriller over and over again. Are we doing ourselves, or our children, any favors when we provide them with vehicles that instantly and constantly cater to their individual needs? Is this so we don't have to share? So we don't have to compromise what we want, or think of others, or learn patience as we wait for our turn?

3. Their components are toxic.
Here's a (somewhat sensationalist) article about common raw materials required for our electronic devices. Where do these items go when we get rid of them? They don't vanish into the ether. Matter does not disappear. Either they pollute our Earth or they are a health risk to the low-wage unskilled workers whose unenviable job it is to take such things apart for their valuable components.

4. They use up precious resources.
All our devices require metals, like gallium, indium, copper, platinum, zinc, nickel and phosphorous.
These resources, once gone, cannot be replenished. The cycle promotes an unhealthy use and abuse of other countries. From the above article:
Resource use has become a global geopolitical issue. By way of example, Mr Reller said China holds a lot of mineral sources, but it is short in copper. “If you follow Chinese politics, you’ll see they are in Africa; they go where they find copper.” 

We have seen this before, with diamonds, coal, and gold. Wealthy Westerners come in, hire up the available labor force to extract what we want from their land, more often than not with no sense of community and no building of permanent infrastructure, fracturing families and cultural life, until the resource is drained. Then we leave, taking no responsibility for the people whose livelihoods are now compromised or the land which has been entirely destroyed. Each new cell phone, each new TV, each new appliance supports this situation because the demand for resources is so great.

5. They make us slaves to information.
Can any of us ever stop checking our devices for updates? It is a fiction that we have learned all the news from the day and can turn off our devices without "missing something." The constant stream of information that is coming to us through our electronics is robbing us of our ability to rest. We have to play games with each other now to get an hour for a meal with friends. We have to be in contact with our offices while on vacation. We cannot ever feel that we have read enough or researched enough because there is always more, always another opinion, another study, another article, another source to check. Spiritually, we recognize the need for silence, but only recently has neurobiology caught up to the idea. It turns out that boredom, the result of inactivity or non-stimulating activity (like washing dishes, knitting, walking a familiar path) are critical to our minds' functionality. If we are constantly taking in information, we have no time to process it. We retain less, we are more stressed, and we are less capable of deep, reflective thought. For more, read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, which I can't recommend enough.

6. They diminish personal socialization and shared experience.
Even sixty years ago, our hobbies and entertainment were much more limited. A movie theater showed one or two movies at a time, not ten. There were, even in the best cities, limited theaters and halls. The TV had 5-10 channels, not 1000. There were three or four respected news sources, and a dedicated person could spend an hour or two and read them all. 50 million people watched the Cosby Show every week. Now, our experiences are completely different from each other, and the most popular shows can't get more than a tenth of that viewership. I have to make an effort to read the same blogs and same newspaper as my husband, because otherwise we exist in entirely separate worlds. (As Fr. Robert Barron mentions in this video commentary.) Our experiences revolve around the latest meme (have you seen this great Tumblr?) or some other internet phenomenon that we experience privately with strangers.

7. It encourages a cheap, disposable society.
The US no longer manufactures much of anything. It's just not cost effective. When a company sells four billion devices in one quarter, their bottom line is best served by churning out as many products as they can as cheaply as possible. This means outsourcing, cutting benefits, cutting corners, and lowering the quality. Why not? Consumers will throw away their devices within two years for the next iteration, so they don't have to be built to last. I've written on this before, because it permeates our culture. It is more important to wear the latest fashion than to find a quality garment you can keep for years. It is more important to have something "new" than something quality. The very rich among us buy new AND quality, and by quality I mean "brand name." We consume so much that in our culture it's considered doing a good deed to drive your cast offs to a donation center like Goodwill instead of simply chucking them in the garbage. OK, I'll grant you that it's better to donate than throw away, but a "good deed?" No. It's more like the least one can expect of a decent human being. A good deed is buying something new for the poor and doing with your old stuff for a bit longer.

So, finding myself with four iPhones, a plasma TV, two regular TVs, a home computer, a Macbook, an iPad, 3 video gaming systems, a portable DVD player, streaming Netflix, a DVR, a Kindle, On Demand movies and shows, streaming audio via Rhapsody, and 3 CD players, what do I do to gain perspective and control over our electronic devices?

1. Limit screen time. Kids have to earn 20 beads for a 1/2 hour show or video game. Beads are earned by helping around the house.

2. Limit devices. We are getting rid of two iPhones, one TV, and two gaming systems. We don't need redundant devices.

3. Choose to limit my own surfing and reading. Spend no more than an hour in the morning checking blogs and writing emails. Make use of Read Later and Evernote to mark interesting articles for perusal in doctor's waiting rooms and the like.

4. Limit phone calls in public so I can interact with strangers and smile at cashiers.

5. Recycle, donate, or buy used as much as possible. I try to do this with non-electronic items as well.

6. Live with things that don't work perfectly (our microwave makes a buzzing noise that does not affect its performance but makes heating something up incredibly irritating.) My iPhone button isn't working right, and I often have to press it three or four times to get the screen I want. It also doesn't have Face Time. OH NOES!

7. Prohibit devices at the table during dinner time. I AM SO GUITY OF THIS and am the first person who needs to take this lesson to heart!!

More Quick Takes at Camp Patton this week!


Renee said...

Limited devices in the home. One TV, but the adults have smart phone s. We still have a landline. My father bought them Nintendo DSi s though. No XboxX or Wii in the house. And a regular old six year old computer.

We have a rule no devices in the bedrooms. Our cell phones stay down stairs over night!

Sue Zanna said...

Today's Gospel was very appropriate for your blog post! All the best with the changes...