Live It Or Record It?

20140929_093209By Michael Leach

I want to knock the cell phone out of her hand and shout, “Look around you!”

Instead, I roll my eyes and grind my teeth. The woman, who’s touring an elegant private garden as part of the recent Garden Writers Association’s Pittsburgh symposium, hunches over a cellphone. She’s oblivious to the tranquil water lotus pool and gnarly trunks of the ancient espaliered apple trees.

Why would anyone, but presumably someone who writes about gardens and cultivates one, spend precious time texting, or sending Facebook updates in a place she may never see again? (To be fair, she may be taking notes or a few photos for future use.)

But she’s probably ODD, suffering from what I term obsessive digital disorder, just like millions of others. I define this as the need to constantly manipulate images on a digital screen, whether games, social media, texts, TVs, cell phones, pads, laptops, smart watches and other devices. ODD people are addicted to the constant diversion that digital “hits” offer.

These devices are incredibly helpful and fun, but how does one avoid addiction to endless diversion? I ponder this danger, while planning an upgrade to a smart phone and all that entails.

Before ranting further, a disclaimer is in order. My view is clouded by decades of writing and editing on a computer. I’m conditioned to being paid for screen time. Forgive me if I prefer face time to Face Book and shy from games to pass idle hours. I played one too many high-stakes game of producing a newspaper despite techno-glitches to find pleasure in antics of the Mario Brothers or killing-spree combat games.

Add to this a gift for causing electronics to manifest peculiar behavior that inevitably prompts the tech-savvy person to exclaim, “I’ve never seen it do that before!” Third, I’m slow to pick up on new stuff, even when it functions perfectly. (Lazy may be a better explanation.)

Now back to digital diversion — New Age nicotine. More addictive than smoking but uber socially acceptable, digital diversion is a must for everyone, starting with the youngest children. Advice I hear for learning new electronic tricks is, “Get a kid to show you how.” Smoking was the other way around.

So how much New Age nicotine is safe for consumption? Who knows? Before having a home computer, my only email came to the office downtown. Did I drive almost 20 miles round trip on Saturday afternoon to check email? Never. But when it comes to a phone that you must also use for nonbusiness calls, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of diversion at your fingertips.

I need space between work and life. That’s hard to find these days.

As I recall the phone addict in the garden, I wonder if she attended a symposium program that cited scientific studies quantifying the positive effects of gardening, plants and nature upon blood pressure, productivity, sense of well being and recovery from surgery. Maybe she skipped that session or more likely — she Tweeted through it.

Let us know:  In this smartphone age, do you live it or record it?


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