Ubiquitous Computing, Or, Thoughts on Whether I Really Want My Laptop to Become Even More of an Appendage

I was recently at a university workshop where one of the fellers enthusiastically described a research program underway by his outfit--in a (bastardized) nutshell, they were looking at ways in which fully integrated PDA's could be converted into some kind of interface that was literally tattooed onto one's arm. No need to panic over losing your Blackberry again, because you're wearing that sucker. (You'll be glad to know I refrained from inquiring whether the tattoo would be "purdy" and available in a range of styles and color choices). Though the room was jam packed with folks who are only too eager to think about the futuristic possibilities of technological communication, when he described this vision the man next to him visibly recoiled. And I could see "eeewwwww" faces being masked behind laptops all around.

On the agenda was "Ubiquitous Computing"--which, I've discovered, is more than just computers every-fucking-where, but the ways in which computing can be "liberated" from computers, per se, and embedded into everyday life. Other everyday examples of "ubicomp" include wireless PDAs, cellphones, IPODS, all these little handheld gadgets that are becoming our appendages, our instant means to communicate or access information--to be instantly and readily available at all times.

Oh Brave New World, right?

So, I do carry a cellphone. And for a year now, I have actually had it switched on for the best part of the day. And how often do I talk on it? About 2-3 times, to my husband, for 2 minutes, to check in on The Boy, what's for dinner, who's got the "good car" and all that. I could count the other calls to other people in a month on one hand. I can attribute this to me not being much of a phone-talker (and a lazy-assed friend) and also someone who is pretty resistant to being instantly and readily available at all times.

And part of this resistance comes from the fact that in my work environment, I sit here behind not one, but two computers and three screens, and communicate with many members of staff (and not a few friends) via instant messenger and email. And even though I know a more productive way to deal with email would be to shut it off completely and check it on a schedule, I leave it open, and can never resist the siren call of the "new message" ping. Whatever I am doing, I can't resist taking a look and "just quickly responding" (Which is why, if you ever write to my work account, you sometimes get an uncannily swift response. So swift, you might think I am a bit sad and have nothing to do. Which is both true and not true.)

It is mainly for this reason--the ability to step away from work when I go home--that I have consciously resisted putting a wireless router in our house. Yes, we have broadband, but accessing it means plodding downstairs to the basement study to fire up the PC and get online. It means a physical separation and a bit of hassle. I use it, of course, but it is not as convenient as having the networked machine right there at your fingertips. I do have a swanky laptop that is literally about 100 times more powerful than Old Faithful in the basement, but I use it for work and work alone (and by "work" I mean blogging and checking gossip sites during work hours, naturally).

But lately, on little lunch trips to CompUSA, I have taken to fondling the routers and thinking that for a mere $100 I could have all the access I want, all over the house.

I could listen to the BBC and catch up on This American Life while I cook in the kitchen
I could check IMDB when watching "that guy in that film. He was in? Oh what the fuck wazzit again?"
I could check t.v. listings, quickly pull up recipes, shop, pay bills, renew library books, and Google for dinosaurs with my son (this, as far as he is concerned, is the primary function of the computer).

I could blog more
I could network more
I could read more
I could email more
I could stay in touch more
I could work more


And herein lies the rub. First, I do not need my boss to expect Instant Messenger or email access to me at 9pm at night, because, believe me, there are those who do and for those people their workday never seems to be over. (And as far as I am concerned, it does not make anyone more productive. If it's *that* important, call me. And leave a message, because I rarely pick up. But this might be a rationalization because I am inherently lazy)

Lately I've been arguably pollyannaish about how maarvelous all this blogging is, and how rich and rewarding it is to participate in these communities, and how radical I think it all is. And I still stand by all that (as most of us do) but the last two weeks have seen not a few "dark side" posts many of seem to point to a more suffocating, all-consuming and even obsessive aspect to the whole enterprise.

And I do wonder, if I got that wireless and remained "networked" for many more hours of the day, whether I would begin to feel the same way, whether I would be posting more, commenting more, reading more--it would probably not hurt my own blog traffic at all to be a bit more consistent and ever-present. And I do suffer from feelings that I am not keeping up with people and being a "bad" blogger for not responding to every comment I get, or returning the favor. This could only help all that, right? right?

Yes, I am very transparent, because you all know where this is going. Along with all that access comes a burden. More obsessive checking of comments feed to see if anyone else has chimed in. More checking of stats. More "audience-building" and investment in "audience-building." More work. And as someone who is not making any kind of living or professional career out of this thing, there is no need for me to "work" this blog. And for those folks who do make an income from their blog, I wonder if for them--even though blogging reaps unique rewards--it feels like they never get to "punch out"--that the work of blogging is ever present, always there. Like a bunch of people in your house who won't go home, even though it's 2am already...

So even though that computer is separate from you, really the network is not--it becomes an ever-present part of your identity. Might as well be tattooed onto your arm (I so wanted to use the line "tattooed on your arse" there, but this would present distinct usability challenges).

And so this, for now, is why I am not getting that wireless. But I reserve the right to change my mind. Mainly when I am lactating 24/7 and in the baby vortex to come. When this time comes, though, I'm going to need to set myself some boundaries. Because though I would love to party hearty all night long, if I don't get to excuse myself for chunks of time, I am liable to hurl all over your carpet.


macboudica said...

I am so with you there! My husband and I share one (ratty old Nokia that doesn't even flip open, take pictures and weighs a pound) cell phone. We do have broadband, but have resisted wireless because with teens in the house we are adamant about keeping the one online computer in a central location to (spy on) keep tabs on what they are up to. The older kids have I-pods but not us, the parents (and actually, grandparents gave the I pods as gifts). We don't have rasberries or PDAs. I sometimes feel like an old fart in a hut in the woods for not being up with current technology, but I really don't want the burden.

Oh, yes, and I am a bad blogger because it is just a hobby for me. I don't obsess, post as many comments as I could, read as much as I could, or really do much to build my readership. I can't--no time. Actually, If you read my latest post, my last statement is a lie. It is not so much I don't have time, it just can't be a priority for me at this time.

Her Bad Mother said...

I would be honoured to have you hurl all over my carpet.

But I hear what you're saying. I've been trying to pace my blog socializing for this very reason. So, I now don't get around to every single post of every one of my favorite bloggers (ahem) never mind the ever-growing list of bloggy acquaintances, but at least I stay sane. Ish.

Mother said...

I'm trying to gear up for the big overwhelming 2 kid thing - however, I'm going to take full advantage of the inlaws being there 24-7 and I'll be utilizing their help.

I may actually "schedule" work time - this way it's consistent.

God. I sound soooo annoying already.

Mom101 said...

As one who hung up from her boss as 11:30 pm last night...um, yeah. Me no likey this ubicomp thing. I have a work-issued blackberry that I have yet to use. I've been told the mailbox is full. Um...ok. I don't want it. I'm on the laptop plenty that I need to turn off sometime. I don't want the option to check email on the playground or type emails on the subway. It's forced hiatus from the www and I like it that way.

I've already cut wayyyy down on blog reading and commenting. I started at a pace I couldn't possibly keep up with. So now it's more reasonable. And ginga's always up there at the top o' the list. Along with....hey, your other commenters here! You have smart readers, lady. quality over quantity.

Mary Tsao said...

After writing my "dark side" post, I decided that I was killing myself by trying too hard. RBS! Repetitive Blogging Syndrome.

My new rule is computer off at 10. Of course, I broke it last night, but...

It's good to set limitations for blogging. Nobody can read and comment on all of the blogs they want. It would consume every minute of every night and every day. At least, that's how it feels sometimes.

sunshine scribe said...

I don't think I have the self restraint for wireless. I already have no boundries with my work and work all hours. I need to start setting some boundries with that ... and blogging too. I have cut waaay back on reading and commenting because I was feeling overwhelmed. Ug.

themikestand said...

Self control is a wonderous thing. Not getting the wireless because you're afraid you won't respect the sanctity of your family? Sick, Joy. Just sick.

OK, not really. I did get in supreme doo-doo the other day because every time I sat down on the couch, I opened the iBook instead of making conversation.

"What do you mean I'm not talking anymore? I almost always respond to whatever it is you're saying."

I'm guessing that as soon as you pop with this little bundle of joy (har) and can think about the computer, you'll have that wireless hooked up. And I'm sure there's a program out there that will log off your "work IM" account at 5 PM.

Elizabeth said...

We have a router, and a laptop docking station in the living room. As we watch TV, I can instantly look at IMDB to figure out who "that guy, who was in that one show" is.

I keep MSN Messenger open all the time, so my husband and I can chat without tying up his work phone. I'm waiting for the day when laptops are just a small wireless tablet that fits in my purse. My son is always asking me questions to which I answer "let's look it up online", but then I forget the question!

bubandpie said...

I think you go for quality rather than quantity on the commenting - I don't know how many times I've seen your comments around the blogosphere and thought "Yes, exactly - so well-put and diplomatic and right on." And then I don't bother posting myself because you've said it all.

lildb said...

Joy, I love this post.

I have to speak to a specific piece: your concern as to whether people wonder why you haven't dropped by *their* blog, and all of that what-not. thing is, whenever you show up around my place, I'm just happy to see you. likewise with everyone else who comes my way. we all have lives, fer chrissake. lives outside of blogtopia, that is. lives which require tending. otherwise, what the fuck would we blog about?

I come and go, too, and I hope people understand that. if they don't, fuck 'em. really. I like everyone on my list, but I can't spare two hours a day to visit everyone and skim-read, hastily comment, and not really *get* any part of what I read or said. like this post - I've had it open for at least two hours, b/c I wanted to read it all, and I've had to come and go, due to other tasks that were pressing. sure, that may mean some people whose sites I do that to think that I'm a freak for keeping their blog up on my desktop for an entire day/night, but I feel that they can suck it if they don't understand that I can't statically blog and blog and blog. that my life requires me to leave the pc here and there, and I pop back in when I can.

woah. um, yes. I think you're right about all-access - it's scary, well, it can be. you just have to teach that bitch who's boss. sometimes it takes practice, and the administration of some willpower. just like anything that's pleasurable. but you'll work it out.

(and I highly recommend wireless for postpartum; nothin' like marathon-nursing and surfing simultaneously.)

mothergoosemouse said...

I do not feel qualified to comment, as I am currently typing away on my laptop which almost never leaves my kitchen table - and is connected to the wireless network, of course.

I did love my Blackberry, although I hate my cell phone and carry it only out of supposed necessity. But no fucking way is somebody tattooing a Blackberry on my person. I've gotta draw the line somewhere.

sweetney said...

you are wise beyond your years, lady. i could learn a thing or two...

ps: how's mamalamadingdong treatin' ya?

Oh, The Joys said...

It is a slippery slope the whole blog thing...

And please, may there never be a device implanted in my arm!

Kevin Charnas said...

a device planted in the arm is disturbing and pathetic.

i really try to strive for moderation in all things; my diet, my personal-life, my work-life - all of it. it takes a regular attention and discipline, but if i start to falter out of it, something usually lets me know - like, I turn into a stupid bastard.

OddMix said...

My son also believes the primary purpose of the computer is to "Google for Dinosaurs". He has also recently discovered that there are jurassic park clips on Google video.

Anonymous said...

My husband was the voice of reason on this front. I would have spent every single moment online, even carry the dang thing into the loo if it weren't for his intervention.

I was way to engrossed in flick and the silly notion that I could cultivate a sizable following in the blogosphere. But really, after a two-week semi-haiatus, I see that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I still read when I can, comment when I can, but I'm not going to be rabid if I can help it.

I'm not sure if this next bit won't be a little too off topic, but I had an interesting conversation with my mother in law about technology.

She is a professor at the university of Minnesota at Duluth, and she was pining for the time when she didn't have e-mail and voice mail. A time when students had to find her. When the responsibility was theirs to make an appointment during her office hours, not just drop her an e-mail and leave the ball in her court, taking away her time from research and planning.

-- toyfoto (ittybits & pieces)

ozma said...

Bleh, I would go back to the eighties if I could. Email is kind of good for a person who is not much of a planner--emergency email messages to students when I forgot to tell them what to read, etc. But I hate it all. I resent the time it takes. In spite of all the wonderous world of blogging and the rest, I'd rather give it up. If I could!

sweatpantsmom said...

Okay, I'm not much of a tech junkie, but I have to say I would be lost without my AirPort.

But those cell phone 'pod' thingies that everyone is wearing attached to their ear? Now those are creepy.

Jenny said...

The tattoo laptop will never work.

Think about how often the upgrade laptops. Are you just going to get a new tattoo every time version 2.0 comes out?

In 10 years we'd be covered in tats.

Stefanie said...

I've been blogging for awhile and I really didn't notice that it's gotten that bad for some people. But now that I read those posts from your link I guess it has. For me I just like a place to vent, an exercise in writing and the hope to connect with another mom who might feel the way I do. Blogging for those reasons keeps me sane but worrying too much about who reads or doesn't would make me insane. I only link to people I like, read blogs that interest me and write when I feel the pull. Maybe that's why I don't have a ton of readers but so fucking be it.

Suburban Turmoil said...

This American Life in the kitchen... Now that is an AWESOME idea! I just got a new MacBook and am still coming up with all the new things I can do with it. And that will be a BIG one.

With kids, I would be LOST without wireless Internet. My office is wherever they are.

Food Mum said...

Hi, I've just come over from Mom 101. Good to meet another Brit pining for Marmite - they have it here in South Africa, but it don't taste the same. We have help in controlling potential blog obsession here - no broad band availbale where I live, so am regulated by having to pay for time on line, but it has severly cut down on time available to fall asleep over a book on the sofa.

Nancy said...

I am bad about this -- I love my wireless and my laptop. I can (and do) drag it all over the house. Right now I'm sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, surfing in my PJs. It's heaven. But then again, I don't watch much TV, so this is my version of entertainment.

However, I don't do any work from home. It's all fun stuff. The day that my workplace tries to hand me a cell phone or blackberry and expects me to be plugged in after hours is the day I submit my resignation.

metro mama said...

I'm resisting wireless because of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I keep my laptop on the third floor to make it more trouble than it's worth to refresh site meter 40 time a day.

neva said...

um....er.... well... apparetnly i can't even manage to read the few bloggers i truly adore on any kind of a regular basis, including YOU! so i hear you, girlfriend.

before cell phones, faxes, IM's, i used to avoid people at all costs (no small feat, considering what i do for a living). caller ID was one of the greatest things to happen for me! i am the world's worst e-mail answerer (as you probably know), and i avoid IM's like a polyester jumpsuit. hate that shit.

again, blogging can be very addictive and/or time consuming... and i think -- as with most activities we enjoy -- moderation is always a good idea. sometimes i actually have to walk away from the computer in order to get away from it. which is why i've been avoiding firing up our laptop (a Sony Vaio, a nice one, at that!)

that said, while i understand your need to pull back from this enormous waste of time we call blogging, i've uh... er... just tagged you to do a meme. but it's a fun meme. and you'll like it. oh yes. you *will* like it! xoxox