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.