On Technology and Missed Experiences

It’s interesting, the way technology and a “must share all the things” mentality has turned us into a perfectly lazy, yet oddly motivated society. It’s the age of DIY thanks to Pinterest and Buzzfeed and hundreds of other websites that make me feel just motivated enough to seriously consider doing a home project. After all, everyone knows a happy home is one with repurposed wood pallets for couches and wall decor made from toilet paper rolls and wine corks.

Over the weekend, I was making a pumpkin pie with my grandmother and upon realizing we didn’t have a recipe for the graham cracker crust, my grandma went searching through her cookbook to find one. She was halfway through the index, trying to figure out whether to search under “graham cracker” or “crust”, when I announced, “Here, I have it right here. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup of sugar.”

Once again, a smartphone destroyed its competition and left no survivors. My grandmother’s cookbook, it’s binding weak from decades of use, was suddenly worthless. The recipes, carefully printed on thick, creamy cardstock, useless. Because with a voice-activated Google search, I had the world at my fingertips– and 1,380,000 graham cracker crust recipes in 0.33 seconds.

Today I was browsing the lip gloss section at ULTA Beauty and was trying to find one that didn’t contain “mixed tocopherols”– a seemingly impossible task. Due to my mixed tocopherol (vitamin E– yes it’s a real thing) allergy, I haven’t been able to wear real lip gloss for several years. But my search has continued, because I’m really dedicated like that. A store associate asked if I needed help and I happily told her that yes, I needed an ingredients listing for the Ulta brand lip gloss. She glanced at the brightly lit wall of lip glosses and replied, “hmmm, yeah I really don’t know. Do you have a smartphone? I would recommend looking it up online, you can probably find an ingredients list somewhere.”

Perfectly lazy. The ear piece she was wearing connecting her to her supervisor in the sky, the computer at the front desk, the stock room in the back of the store– all places that might have had an answer to my straightforward question. But instead she resorted to “look it up yourself”, in kinder words. And I shouldn’t be surprised, I really shouldn’t. The answer to everything is online, so why lift a finger (or a store reference manual) yourself?

The ULTA associate didn’t hep me find the answer to my problem for the same reason I didn’t let my grandma thumb through her beloved cookbook looking for a graham cracker crust recipe– it just wasn’t fast enough or necessary. We are a society competing in smartphone quick draw Olympics. The first person to name the actress who played the little girl in Jurassic Park (IMDB for the win) or get directions to dinner (Google Maps>Mapquest) wins– and just like that conversations are shut down and meaningful, human interactions and experiences are circumvented.

Like the time I was driving home from Virginia Beach with my snoozing best friend in the passenger seat– it was in the days before GPS’s and smartphones . Enjoying the quiet drive and feeling confident that I could get us home, I let the more direction-savvy of us sleep. A big mistake. Hardly able to contain my laughter, I finally shook Alyssa awake and told her, “I think we’re in Washington, D.C.” The perfectly visible Washington Monument and the White House directly to our left confirmed my suspicions. I drove 30 miles past Alyssa’s house and took us straight into the heart of Washington, D.C. I had to call my dad to help navigate us out of the city, and a few hours later, we finally made it home.

It’s one of my favorite stories, it’s one of my favorite memories. Backtracking our way home, we laughed until our stomachs hurt and our faces were wet with tears. And Alyssa accused me of having a mental disability because I couldn’t remember how to drive to her house– the same house I had been driving to for the past 7 years. Had Siri’s eerily monotonous voice been guiding us home that night, I promise nothing exciting or significant would have happened. Except maybe a few unnecessary U-Turns. I would have dropped Alyssa off at her house and we would have said our goodbyes. I would have driven, with GPS guidance, back to my house and gone to bed. That entire beach trip and drive home probably lost in my mind forever, because nothing memorable happened.

This is my fear. What if our eyes plastered to our screens and our incessant Googling of facts are ruining our life experiences. The experiences that could have been, but never will be. What if the recipe from my grandma’s lovingly worn cookbook was one that we would have enjoyed making together far more than the generic Google result we instead recreated. What if we never found a recipe at all because Wifi wasn’t a thing and her cookbooks were in the attic, so we winged it instead? And the pie crust was crumbly and dry and tasted like cardboard, but we laughed as we shoveled spoonfuls of pumpkin pie into our faces. Because we were full with joy and deliciously satisfied with the memory we were creating.

What if the ULTA associate spent 3 minutes with me and we realized we had a mutual friend, or a common interest? What if I miraculously had the answer to a problem she has been having, or she was able to offer me insight into a situation that has seemed impossible for me. What if we spent time interacting with one another instead of Siri or Google or Bing. Just kidding, nobody uses Bing. I’m scared that this age of smarpthones is taking out the “what if’s”– both the good and bad ones. What would happen if you let life happen without smart phone intervention, what might you experience?

6 thoughts on “On Technology and Missed Experiences

  1. Love this post, especially the dig at Bing (did you know Bing stands for ‘Bet It’s Not Google’?).

    I love the sentiment you display for true, organic (analog) moments. However, it’s not a mutually exclusive thing. I love that I can mandate of my kids that “I don’t know” is never an acceptable answer. When I was their age, I had to crack open an encyclopedia. Now, Gigi (that’s my pet name for Google search) helps them learn in a fraction of the time.

    What if Google recommends a restaurant that ends up being a fantastic dining experience? What if Google maps tells you about the traffic on the interstate and the back roads alternate route ends up being a scenic adventure?

    I’m not knocking what you’re saying in your post. Some of my best memories are tech-free ones. But being plugged in isn’t so bad either.

    • I love your thoughts– and you’re exactly right. I know for a fact I would have missed out on a lot of experiences had I not had my smartphone to guide me to a secluded beach spot where I could enjoy a day with my family, a recipe that blew my mind, and countless other things. Thanks for your perspective! I tend to automatically go to black and white thinking so I love getting the shades of gray thrown in there, too. It’s something Isaac often points out to me haha 🙂

      • Thanks, Courtney. I can offically say I’ve obtained a certain level of “grown up-ness” (I won’t say maturity because …. pfft … I’m talking about me) when someone else refers to me as the shades of gray person. For the longest time, everything to me was black or white. I was Mr. Binary. Although I still occasionally fail at it, I do try my hardest to see and understand the other side of the argument. We live in a world of nuance, and I think peace is found in the understanding of that nuance.

        …..unless the nuance is BING. bleep BING.

  2. You’ve raised some existential questions. If I hadn’t had some wine I might have something useful to add. Somehow some sort of unsolicited chat popped up while I was surfing the net. Kind of unnerving. Not sure but it seems like the other side of the technology coin you raised. Maybe it’s related to internet porn. Did I mention my wife travels a lot? Guess I need to clean up my act. Oops.

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