I’ve been thinking about how accessible we’ve become as we develop more sophisticated technological tools.  I wonder if it’s the fear of being forgotten or the fear of being out of touch.  We just got back from a week in Mexico.  When the plane took off from LAX, I turned off my cell phone and dropped it into my bag.  We took iPods but no computer.  The first place we stayed had a “business center” with two rather slow computers–when we passed it as we were checking in, I promised myself that I would go all week without looking at email–something I normally do three or four times a day.  I wasn’t tempted until the second day when Kam wanted to let his parents know we arrived safely–when he sat down at one computer, I naturally checked in.  No notes from anyone I know, I think because everyone at work was on vacation, and family and friends knew where I was.  When we moved to a far more remote resort on the Sea of Cortez, we were truly incommunicado–no phone, TV, Internet, radio–nothing but the iPods.  I love that feeling, but as soon as we landed in LA, I turned on my phone to make sure everything was OK with my daughters.  In truth, Casey had our itinerary and we could be found in an emergency. 

My family always had a telephone in the house, but I don’t think I had an answering machine until I began my first teaching job in Monterey.  If someone needed to talk to me, they had to keep calling until I was home–same for me with them.  Somehow, things worked out.  I probably got email sometime in the ’90’s and I’ll have to admit, it’s my favorite form of communication–I can check it when I’m ready.  When I lived in Tennessee, I never worried about answering the phone–three children in the house–but when I lived on my own again in California, I set my answering machine to two rings and rarely picked up the phone “live” unless it sounded urgent.  I got a cell phone around five or six years ago, but most of the time, it sits in the car.  I have to admit that a cell phone has made traveling much easier–especially the airport pick-up–and it’s comforting in case my car breaks down, but I buy minutes once a year–I just don’t use it too much.

I’m not sure how I would have handled cell phones, IM, Facebook, and the Internet in general when my children were young.  I probably would have done the same as TV–limited their “live” viewing time to a couple of hours a week.  The girls could watch movies or programs on the VCR, but mostly they were outside playing or as teenagers, in their rooms listening to music, reading, writing or talking.  I’ve talked to parents who cannot control their kids’ texting, emailing, surfing.  I’ve talked to teachers who have problems with kids surreptitiously text-messaging in class, I’ve talked to kids who cannot live without their cell phones on their person as all times.  This all worries me.  Sometimes it seems like Myspace and Facebook are like quick get-rich schemes–instant fame for just exposing oneself–“I have 350 friends!”  I don’t even know what that means.

But another thought is that the technology has ways to release us, too.  I know my family had a TV when we first moved to San Jose when I was five–my brothers and I were definitely addicts–undiscriminating, for the most part, in our viewing because there were only a few channels.  When the girls were little, I used to get them in bed by 7:30, partly to have adult time, but also because if we wanted to watch Masterpiece Theater or something more grown-up, we had to be in front of the TV when it aired–we didn’t own a VCR until we moved to Tennessee.  As soon as we got one, I became quite proficient at scanning the program listings and taping favorite shows.  We could watch these when we had time, skip commercials, and stop watching TV to talk to someone who needed to be heard–even now, I rarely watch “live” TV.

We woke up this morning listening to NPR Sunday morning–far less disturbing news, far more interesting interviews about art, life, books, etc.  As I lay there, I thought that it would be nice to have this playing as I ate breakfast, but then I love to read the paper in the morning.  Too bad it can’t be recorded, but then I realized that it can be downloaded.  The technology has made it so we can access almost anything, save it, and listen/view when we have the time. 

I know I do not want to be accessible every waking moment, but it’s wonderful to stay in touch.  We control the technology, it does not control us.  Just like food, just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to partake; and just like food, extremes are always unhealthy.  Either your life works or it doesn’t.