The Honeymoon is (Finally!) Over.

January 6, 2011 at 7:40 pm (By Amba)

When you hear something three times, it no longer sounds like a coincidence and it gets your attention.

What I’ve heard at least three times this holiday season, as people — including at least one hard-core tech head — left for family gatherings or beach vacations or cruises, was:  “I’m not taking my computer.”  Often followed by, “And I won’t get a phone signal.”

Have you heard this?  Or maybe even said it?

Vacation has, at last, become a getaway from electronics and virtual worlds and incessant, obsessive non-face-to-face communication.  We now take our refreshment in what the tech heads used to contemptuously call “meat world”:  the old world of the senses, movement, handclasps, facial expressions.  Electronic communication and information sharing is a life-changing, world-changing marvel, but it also has severe limitations — sensory, social, emotional — and we’ve hit that wall.  Enthrallment has turned to humdrum and even harassment.  Screens are, finally, flat, and they can make you feel for all the world like a transfer ironed onto a T-shirt.

I think this is a good thing, in that it restores a sense of proportion and of appreciation for poor old jilted reality.  I’m not suggesting that people should throw away their computers (I’m writing this on a computer), only that it’s a good sign that we can get sick of them.

(Another of the biggest tech heads I know — a professional in the field — got off the plane back from a conference on digital publishing and left his iPad in the back-of-seat pocket.)


  1. Melinda said,

    It also has to do with re-setting personal boundaries. “I’m putting up these imaginary walls and blocking out everything but relaxing and socializing. You can’t reach me for a while with work problems, information, current events, etc.”

  2. amba12 said,

    I think it’s particularly fun to use a computer to complain about computers.

  3. Ron said,

    I wonder how much our computers complain about us in the billions of idle CPU cycles they have between when we press a key…..and then another….

  4. david said,

  5. Icepick said,

    Electronic communication and information sharing is a life-changing, world-changing marvel, but it also has severe limitations — sensory, social, emotional — and we’ve hit that wall.

    But… but …. but… porn! Lots and lots of porn! By your neighbors! They FINALLY have an interesting slide show, and you don’t even have to go to their house and listen to their boring stories to see them!

  6. Icepick said,

    Another of the biggest tech heads I know — a professional in the field — got off the plane back from a conference on digital publishing and left his iPad in the back-of-seat pocket.

    Did he do it on purpose?

  7. Icepick said,

    This need to get away is precisely why I don’t get involved with twitter or facebook. I’m trying to maintain some since of distance from the ever-present screens.

    OTOH, I’d love to get a smartphone. I wouldn’t be feeling that urge so badly but my beloved RAZOR is finally dying on me.

  8. Icepick said,

    And then there’s this article on things babies born in 2011 will never remember. Two items really stuck out to me:

    Forgotten friends: Remember when an old friend would bring up someone you went to high school with, and you’d say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about them!” The next generation will automatically be in touch with everyone they’ve ever known even slightly via Facebook.

    Forgotten anything else: Kids born this year will never know what it was like to stand in a bar and incessantly argue the unknowable. Today the world’s collective knowledge is on the computer in your pocket or purse. And since you have it with you at all times, why bother remembering anything?

    I find the idea of being endlessly tied to everyone I’ll ever meet sickening. People come and go in life, and that’s not all bad. Most of my friends are actually people I grew up with – but most of the people I grew up with are long out of my life. Some people I want in my life forever, but that is a very small number of people.

    Selective forgetfulness is one of life’s true gifts.

  9. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Did he do it on purpose?

    Not consciously.

  10. Theo Boehm said,

    I can’t tell you how much this rings true for me.

    Something that’s obvious about the incessant digital world is how much it drowns out and substitutes for God.

    I don’t mean people worshiping images on a screen, or who are being distracted from religion by efficiently-delivered personal entertainment, porn or not. No, I mean something deeper yet plain to anyone with a spiritual inkling.

    I used to think the out-of-tune “B” of the 60-Hz dynamo hum of our civilization crowded out the “sound of silence,” that subtle, high, clear note I remember from my far childhood, away in the Mojave desert, that was the color of light and consciousness that pervaded everything.

    Since personal digital life has come about, we’ve have had something even more distracting, screeching and chattering upon the 50- or 60 Hz burden, blinding us, twisting us up, raising our blood pressure, drowning out everything, including God speaking to us in the silence, and screaming, “Now! Now! Now!”

    Today is Epiphany in the Christian Church. But I’ve recently had my own, private epiphany about the human, sin- (or desire-, or illusion-) magnifying evil that is this ceaseless racket. You are literally blinded to God by a 75 Hz refresh rate. You can’t hear Him, because you’ve been deafened by iTunes. And you can’t know where you are, because you’ve been distracted by the latest collection of apps on your iPad.

    I recently pulled an old, thick book off the shelf, and, reading it for the first time in 30 years, was blown away by the sheer novelty of something meant to be experienced over the time it takes to read hundreds of pages. Of course, I used to read books constantly. But, in the past few years, like everybody else, I’ve fallen into the junk-on-the-screen trap. I’ve lost patience with anything that isn’t one paragraph, snazzy, and heavily linked—of course to other one-paragraph pages, preferably with video.

    I recently wrote a perhaps overlong review of that old, thick book, mostly to see if I could do it. The review isn’t particularly good, but it’s a start back on the road to something—what that is, I can’t say. Of course, hardly anyone reads such long things on the internet, and, although I put it up on my blog, I don’t expect them to. It was mostly for me. I’ve really got to refocus myself and remember how to write, without constantly thinking how I can at once defend myself against and appeal to jumpy, snark-ready blog commenters and those who pander to them.

    I can’t stand it any more. Something’s wrong. The relationships online are all wrong. I know there’s something wrong with the whole thing, but, frankly, I don’t know what to do. I’ve got to get away from this, and I’m seriously thinking of either a long break from anything on the computer but technical work, or, perhaps more sanely at this time in my life, the complete abandonment of social media.

    Online life has proven to be a rough beast, but I am too old to wait for it to finish slouching, screeching and chattering, towards that virtual Bethlehem, where its reboot may or may not come round at last.

  11. realpc said,

    “I can’t stand it any more. Something’s wrong. The relationships online are all wrong.”

    I cut way back recently. I am not ready to throw the computers away, because I still need them for work and for recording music. But I realized how unhealthy all that online communication was. Now I am listening to God. As soon as I post this comment.

  12. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,


    I’m taking great joy in face-to-face life, and I can’t wait to meet you, Theo, real, Ron, Icepick.

  13. wj said,

    The problem I have is the same that any addict would experience: when I’m on vacation, I get twitchy if I can only check e-mail once a day.

    Of course, I have an excuse — I’m one of those techies you mention, and in a small company there are times when I may be the only one who can deal with something. But at least I know it’s an excuse, not a reason. ;-)

  14. Ron said,

    For me it’s funny…I like the tech more and more as I get older. Through being online, I visit as much of the world (in many senses) as I can every day! Who gets that tired of the world? Yes, yes, yes, I know all about the difference between this and ‘real life’; frankly, I’ve been more disappointed in ‘the real world’ than the online one, even with all its flaws.

    Solon’s “I grow older and always continue to learn” maxim comes to mind — and heart — most online.

  15. mockturtle said,

    My computer was in the shop for three days and I discovered life.

  16. PatHMV said,

    I trust that at some point more people will find balance. I wouldn’t dream of going on vacation without my iPhone or computer. But when I’m on vacation, I don’t sit there obsessing over it.

    When I went scuba diving with my brothers and father a couple of years ago, I brought my computer (I need it because of my photography hobby). I enjoyed that I could upload a few photos each evening so that friends and family back home could see what we were experiencing. But that’s all I did with the computer. Maybe one FB comment in the morning and one in the evening, not (as too often at home) locked to the screen for hours at a time, constantly updating or reading updates or the latest news.

    Ever notice that some people have the mental ability to ignore a ringing phone, and others simply feel compelled to answer it? Just because I carry the technology with me does not mean that I have to use it all the time. But I think that some people treat e-mail the same way their parents treated the phone, as something that they were required to interact with, if they had the physical ability to do so.

  17. A said,

    House, time and energy bound as I am, email is a lifeline to me, though I recognize the weird, jumpy rhythms and addictive qualities of the screen. But I agree with Ron, too—
    I learn, and even sometimes am blessed to teach, via this medium, from the kitchen table. It’s true, the old letter-writing version would be wonderful, a different pace, feeling and thoughtfulness altogether. But to communicate instantly is pretty damn useful. Blogs and snark… I read, or not. And don’t blog or tweet. Or “friend”. Loathe nouns turned into verbs.
    Party on.

  18. Donna B. said,

    PatHMV – you are so right about answering the phone. I think part of it is that now we can know who is calling, they can leave their message, and we haven’t really missed out on the contact if we don’t answer. Way back in the olden days, that wasn’t possible.

    The call might be important! And it likely was more important than most calls made today.

    The thing I hate most about having a cell phone is that it theoretically makes me always available. Being online can do that too. If I ever make myself “visible” on some services, there are several people who immediately IM me. I abhor IMs even with people I like who have something interesting to say.

  19. amba12 said,

    I dislike the telephone generally because I feel guilty if I don’t answer it, but then resentful if someone calls me at an inopportune time. How stupid is that?

  20. Donna B. said,

    It can’t be stupid, since I feel the same way!!!

  21. karen said,

    “I recently pulled an old, thick book off the shelf, and, reading it for the first time in 30 years, was blown away by the sheer novelty of something meant to be experienced over the time it takes to read hundreds of pages.”

    My sister is so excited about her new ibook, or kindle or whatever– and i just looked at it like- ~blech~ how can you possibly read comfortably in bed w/that? Leaving it hanging around in the last place you look, etc. would be heartstopping.

    I’m so reverse when it comes to my life and everyone else here, i guess. We’ve never taken a vacation(we never went away for a honeymoon)- we hardly ever leave the farm together to do something away- and if we do, it’s between our choretime(about 9am-4pm). We don’t seem able to trust anyone else to the milking, which is a very personal and touchy aspect of the farm– literally. So much can happen during time away, so much can happen just when you go in for lunch.

    That makes this screen and these relationships extra special to me. I know that when i was away from you all- it was difficult in the sense that i wondered every day how everyone was doing and couldn’t just boot it up and see for myself. I know we’ve discussed how we envision e/other and i remember saying i didn’t have any expectations– i just don’t seem to have the imagination to envision how anyone sounds or what they look like- it’s more of a cadance thang in how you write that gives me a sense of character. By Divine luck i met Randy and Evelyn- and i like the voices& memories i have of them; i’ll just have to wait and see who’ll else dares to make it so far North:0).

    Anyway- i have no cell phone, no ipod, no hdtv. Earbuds seem dangerous and intrusive. I now have a fairly fast computer w/wireless due to some little black-n-blinkin’ do-hickey thingy here and i’m thankful.

    No facebook- can you imagine?? That would be overkill for me. My sister connected w/all of her HS friends, Ice and had a stompin’ reunion for the class of ’73- good on her.

  22. Icepick said,

    Karen, iPods and MP3 players are awesome.

    Here’s an example. I used to listen to music at work. But I always ended up listening to the same seven or eight albums. I had limited space to keep stuff at work since I couldn’t load stuff up on my computer, and I didn’t want albums at work that I wasn’t sure I would listen to. So it always ended up being the same stuff over and over.

    But once I got my iPod I loaded up everything I had. Hit the shuffle feature and the device will pick stuff randomly. I ended up listening to stuff I hadn’t heard in years and years, stuff I had forgotten about until I loaded it up. It was wonderful.

    As for Kindles – while I do prefer books I can’t deny that Kindles have their uses. My wife got one for Christmas a year ago. It will hold a tremendous amount of stuff, so it’s great for travel, It’s also great for bedtime reading, as it’s a helluva lot easier than handling some 800 page tome while lying down.

    The digital age does have its advantages. Watching the sunrise at the beach isn’t one of them, but compact storage & retrieval of human manufactured information is.

  23. wj said,

    Karen, you may not be as different as you think. I’ve actually worked with computers professionally since the late 1960s. Didn’t get a cell phone (phone calls only; none of those other features) or a laptop until about 6 years ago, when I had to have them for work. Still don’t have hdtv, an iPad, an MP3 player, an electronic book reader, or any of that other techie stuff. (Never had a Walkman, for that matter.)

    The main difference, I think, is that you need to be where the animals are (farm boy, can you tell?), while I have to be where my job is — which is on-line, whatever its physical location at the moment. But different as the location aspects of our job are, we still have the same need to be available to that job. And, I’ll warrant, we have the same twitchy feeling, if necessity takes us away for a day or two.

  24. Randy said,

    Last night, when Theo announced his impending departure from twitter and closure of his blog, I decided to join him, at least as far as closing my twitter account. As I’ve been both less active and less interested in what was being said there, I pulled the plug on my account today, and deleted the bookmark as well. (I’m not even sure if my last posts there were published). There are many fine people still posting there, but my interests have changed over time.

    As to the main topic, I’m not all that sure that the honeymoon is over. Amba’s opening argument strikes a chord, but we’re in the same age group (and hardly representative at that, I imagine). Can’t really think of anything to add to the many thoughtful responses.

  25. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    I’ve been largely ignoring Twitter lately, too. Might join you, not sure yet!

  26. Icepick said,

    Hey, I was ahead of the curve: I have ignored Twitter from the beginning! It gives me a nice warm feeling inside.

  27. realpc said,

    There are some things I love about the internet. It’s great if you have an unusual hobby or interest, for example, because you can find information and buy stuff that would be almost impossible to get otherwise. But just because technology can be useful or enjoyable, doesn’t mean we have to buy every gadget or use the internet for everything all the time.

    I shop online for things that local stores do not have, but otherwise I would rather shop in stores. Just because you can do something while sitting inside on your butt doesn’t mean you have to. Shopping offline forces you to move your muscles and get outside — the things most Americans desperately need, yet desperately avoid.

    Almost everyone where I work has their paycheck go automatically into their bank account. But there is nothing so difficult about physically going to the bank. When things happen automatically you are less likely to notice mistakes, and more likely to lose track of your finances.

    We do have the freedom to decide when to use technology or when not to. We are not compelled to buy every new gadget and use every new system, but it seems like almost everyone does.

  28. Theo Boehm said,

    Well, along with Randy, I have indeed pulled my Twitter account. Done flown the coop.

    As I’ve announced, I also have deleted my personal blog. That’s for reasons implied in my post above, but also it’s because Blogger is a terrible service that has driven me nuts over the years. If I ever do restart a personal blog, it will not be on Blogger. I’ve saved the blog contents elsewhere, so I may dip into them as a resource when needed.

    In the meantime, I’m very honored to be able to continue to post occasional things here. But I just don’t have the time to do justice to a personal blog. I am extremely happy with Ambiance as a group blog and with the people associated with it.

    However, the screen name, ‘Theo Boehm’ has become increasingly hateful to me for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with the abuse I’ve taken under it on the Althouse blog. So, I’m killing off ‘Theo’ and returning here under my own first name. I think it will be pretty obvious who I am. I’m less concerned with privacy than I once was, considering how much of an invasion there’s been of it in practically every online encounter I’ve had in, say, the past 5 years.

    I’d also like to make the point that, despite my own spiritual problems with online life, I certainly understand the lifeline it can provide to people like Karen and others who may live isolated lives by most standards

    Karen seems to have the kind of hard life most Americans once lived on the farm, but is rare to vanishing today. For farm families, things like Rural Free Delivery and the long-distance telephone meant, in the past, a real decrease in social and economic isolation. The internet is the latest piece of technology to continue this process, and for those who live such lives,I can easily imagine how much of a Godsend it must be.

    For myself, living a typical suburban life, I am never far from people and constant chatter. As I say, the internet is, for me, a serious impediment to what I think I have to do spiritually as I’m getting older. But I’m not making a rule: Your mileage will undoubtedly vary. It’s just those of us with everything blapping and screaming in our direction need a break.

    So, I won’t be doing much else online, but I will be around here, NOT being driven nuts by the intelligent and interesting people who hang around.

  29. karen said,

    After i left my comment, i felt like i needed to clarify just a tad about our never vacationing. It may not (be)seem possible for us, but it also is a choice. We just aren’t the type of people to let others manage our cows, etc. Some people can’t leave their kids w/babysitters- and we can leave our herd. Travelling back home this morning from my run to the store to drop off the girls to catch their ride to school– i wondered why i would want to go anywhere else for beauty, other than to escape the cold(duh). I wish now that i had brought Randy and Evelyn to see our real home– not the lod farmhouse on the main drag. That was my brain cramping in shallow water, apparently.

    Theo– i can’t imagine anyone giving you grief to that extent… ? I love Althouse– she’s quirky. I respect her opinions, but i never read the comments over there. I miss Meade here, too. I can’t wait to see your name- lol.

    ps– life is hard, here, but it’s mostly due to hours and elements, both tending to be extreme. Cash flow is tight, but the value of our stock and assets is growing. And our dealings w/my in-laws–let’s just say… what can i say? Extreme, as well.

  30. wj said,

    Ice, I’m with you! I never stepped into the quicksand that is (apparently) Twitter.

    Whether this was prescience, introversion, or mere sloth is an open question….

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