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

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For Jenny, a professional recruiter and the single mother of an 11-year-old, a blackout — if only for an evening — is an unusual and risky choice. (Her babysitter had the name of the restaurant if all hell broke loose.) "This is seriously nerve-wracking," she notes, setting her purse on the floor. "What am I supposed to do with my hands?" I keep my suggestions to myself.

During dinner, we look at each other — a lot. We wind up talking, almost too much. Where spare moments had previously been filled with screen time, we have to — gasp — make eye contact. (Hers are a beautiful teal with a halo of amber circling like Saturn rings.)

At one point I get nervous and engage the couple next to us in conversation. (Bad idea.) I tell a story I hadn't remembered until now. Feeling energized and liberated, we take a long walk after dinner, holding our phone-free hands and enjoying the uninterrupted intimacy.

"Would you do this with me again?" I ask. Powering up her phone, she replies, "Text me and find out."

People give me crap about the fact that I still take home newspaper delivery. Yes, I realize the content is available online, and that it's far more up-to-date than by the time I grab my soggy copy from the porch. But there's something I like about the layout, crunching the pages back, getting inky from news that's literally at my fingertips. Plus, I feel the need to keep a few fellow old-school journalists employed.

Books, for some reason, are a different story — I'm not able to turn the pages. I'm on page 123 of my hardback copy of Telegraph Avenue. (For those keeping score, I've read 66 pages on the Kindle, 55 pages in book form.) I'd like to blame all the digital distractions, but there aren't any. I'm simply a slow reader, easily sidetracked by hunger, sleep, and my own monkey mind. Perhaps I should try books on tape.

By the time I hit the Bob Dylan concert Saturday night, I'm a million miles from my overly stimulated, Techno-Gorging self. I no longer grab for my phantom phone or feel the need to check in with anyone other than the person I'm with. The show is pleasantly low-tech. There are no giant projection screens or psychedelic lights, and, unlike at the Ben Howard gig the week before, only a smattering of folks are shooting video. Instead of wanting to take a piece of Mr. Tambourine Man and post him on the Web, most of us are there to connect his live renditions with memories of the past.

Midway through Dylan's set, I see a guy in front of me writing out a set list. I ask him the name of the previous song, a bluesy ballad I'd never heard. "That was 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,' " Hairy Garcia replies. "You can check 'em later — I post all Bob's set lists at Boblinks.com." The times, they are a-changin'.

I'm not staying blacked out. I'll keep a game of Words With Friends going, if only to stave off dementia, and I'll post some pics and links if I have a major accomplishment (Oscar), announcement (baby), or plea (bail money). But I won't be "liking" the photo of your dog in a Santa hat, I won't be posting "Happy Birthday!" on your wall (if you're a real friend, you'll get flowers), and I won't poke you unless we're lovers, in which case our relationship status should be obvious. I won't invite you into my Circle or Stream unless we've met in person, and I won't follow you unless you're a mentor or someone ahead of me on the trail. I'm not checking in, unless it's to rehab, in which case I'm hoping you'll see it on TMZ. I'm done Digging and Pinning and Yelping and Blogging and Tagging and Stumbling. If I'm going to be "part of the conversation," it'll be from across the table. I'll still be linked in, but to my life, not my network. And my Klout score will definitely fall, but so will my blood pressure.

During my two-week experiment, I asked every person I encountered what they love about technology. My good friend Marty put things in perspective: "I was driving down to Portland with my family, and someone mentioned that Venus was going to be bright in the night sky — right above the North Star. Well, I had no clue where the North Star was, so I got this app that shows all the constellations. I got out of the car with my kids and held up the phone, and — boom! — it pointed out exactly where the North Star was, and Venus, and all the constellations around us. That was super-cool."

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Michael A. Stusser