Longform

What Would Life Be Like Without Technology? A Onetime Addict Finds Out

Page 7 of 9


The walls of Dr. Sam Browd show an impressive array of diplomas, diplomatic schmoozing, and procreation. In addition to a lovely wife and daughter, one of his children looks like a gorilla.

"You've got some interesting family photos, doctor. How, uh . . . how old is that one?," I ask, pointing at a wrinkled infant.

"That's the baby gorilla from the [Woodland Park] zoo," he replies. "She had a neurological problem, so we operated on her. She did great." Thank God.

I meet with the young neurosurgeon at Seattle Children's Hospital to see if the Techno-Gorge might have damaged my brain. "I relate your experiment to my own life," Browd replies. "People are constantly texting and e-mailing and paging me, 24/7. At the end of the day, that's not healthy. My son is 18 months old — first thing he does is ask for the iPad. I'm a bit horrified by that — but also amazed. It has this innate reward. It's something basic that resonates. It's addict . . . I'm sorry," he smiles, "I've got to take this."

If anyone should be able to take a call mid-sentence, it's a brain surgeon. But I have a final question about Siri: Is she making my brain soft?

"Someone asked me the other day for my own parents' phone number," Browd replies. "I don't know it; it's programmed. You learn through experience, repetition, by doing things. If you're relying on technology to retain memories for you, essentially, that probably isn't good."

Shortly thereafter, I arrange to have Robbie hauled into the principal's office for a chat. "Hey," he says, clearly out of breath and probably thinking he'd been suspended (again). "What's up?"

I explain that I just wanted to touch base. "I'm five days in, and everything's so quiet. I don't quite know what to do with myself."

Robbie then tells me to calm the fuck down. "I mean, I understand. I have missed out on so many girls and parties — everything — because I'm not texting," he says. "So that sucks. But you just need to relax. All the drama on Facebook or whatever, it just used to get me in trouble. I didn't even know a lot of people who were posting on my wall. Now it's better, 'cause if someone wants to talk to me, they have to do it in person."

One of the people I like to hang out and listen to records with (in person) is my friend Michael Don Rico. Michael's been in the restaurant business for years and loves the way great food and wine can bring people together. He also thinks smartphones are sucking the life out of something important.

He proceeds to tell a story: "The other day I was opening a bottle of wine, and this woman mentioned an item on the menu: chanterelle mushrooms. People at the table started to discuss the word. Was it French? Had it been the name of a movie? Before the conversation could branch out, this guy pulls up the definition on Wikipedia: 'I know! I have the answer! Genus is Cantharellus formosus. Commonly known as chanterelle, or golden. Edible, meaty, nutty.' And the mystery was gone. The romance of that moment never had a chance to play out."

Instant results don't allow our brains to flex their muscles, to recall a name or face or place. What's worse is that we don't get to debate or free-associate. Michael set the needle down on a Fugees album. "Where do you think the name 'shiitake' came from?" I inquire. The conversation that followed was neither accurate nor informative, but we laughed our asses off.

The difference between getting something via snail mail and opening an e-mail is like the difference between a visit from Kate Beckinsale or Snooki. While there are advantages to quick, easy, and disposable, First Class is, well, first class. E-mail is clearly what's killing the post office, so, as a public service, I ask my friends to write me letters this week — and each and every person complains about what a physical hardship it would be to hand-scribe a communique. My total mail haul: eight credit-card offers, seven realtor cards, 15 bills, four magazines, three ValuPacs, six nonprofit solicitations (tree-killers all!), and four personal letters (two from the same beautiful, fabulous person). I reply to each. By the end, my hand is killing me.

I ask Jenny if she'd dine with me in the dark. While not one of those sensory events where they seat you in a pitch-black room and serve you dinner while you blindly grope your companion and silverware, a blackout would be an opportunity to get to know someone without distraction.

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Michael A. Stusser