I’m what’s known as a “late adopter.” I wouldn’t have an answering machine, even when everyone had one. Only an unpleasant boss who had serious problems understanding personal boundaries drove me to acquire an answering machine. This was in the days before caller ID was common. Speaking of which, I was late getting caller ID, too. Why should I? If someone really wanted to talk with me, they’d leave me a message, right? Caller ID only came to my house as a part of a package where I couldn’t pick and choose.
As for laptops, how ridiculous? And the early ones certainly were. Rather like carrying a modern desktop computer around with you. I was an early adopter of computers, simply because I worked such long hours, mostly on computer, and I wanted to be able to go home to do some of that work. I’ve never thought much of having an expensive computer with software that will let you do all kinds of things and using it as a glorified typewriter, so I learned how to use various business and desktop publishing software. At one time, when my employer gave me a PDA he wanted me to use in my work, I learned to use it. I’m no Luddite. But a laptop, no?
Then I broke my knee. I was under heavy freelance deadlines, but I could not climb the stairs to my office computer—and I was supposed to keep my leg elevated. My wonderful son had just bought a new laptop, so he sent me his “old” one (two years old). It saved the day for me and slowly became my favorite for writing. Later, I bought a newer laptop, very light, with a bigger hard drive and more memory and speed than any desktop I’d ever known.
I resolutely did not want a cell phone. Why should I want others to be able to contact me when I was driving, at a meeting, running errands, or traveling for work or vacation? I relished the time free of demands. I had embraced email because, unlike phone calls, I could respond to it when it was convenient for me. Then came the day I was driving my son to the easternmost reaches of our metropolitan area and my radiator blew up. In a flash, the temperature gauge shot up from normal into the red, giving me just enough time before the explosion to pull into the Wendy’s parking lot I was passing. There were businesses and shopping malls all around, but no pay phones. My son (a resolute early adopter of everything) had a cell phone that proved to be a lifesaver for us.
After that, I went to a mall and got a simple, basic cell phone with prepaid minutes that I periodically refill. That was six years ago, but careful readers might have noticed the present tense I used in that sentence. Yes, I still buy prepaid minutes for my cell phone. It isn’t a basic phone any longer because my other son (an even more resolute early adopter) gave me his smartphone when he bought his first Android. So the phone I have is actually a tiny computer that loads up Microsoft when you turn it on, has a video and still camera, holds and plays all the music files on my home computer, carries my home computer’s contact list, can search the web, and send/read email. I do none of those things, except keep the contacts updated, because the screen is 2” x 3”, the keys are the size of a lentil, the speakers are tiny and tinny, and I only use prepaid minutes. It was one of the very earliest of the smartphones and quite impressive in its day. For me, it functions as a great cell phone, watch, and alarm, which was really all I needed it for.
Things have changed in my life, however. I now do Facebook and Twitter—both of which I swore I’d never do. I have my own blog and post weekly on this blog, plus guest-blogging frequently on others. Since my novel, Every Last Secret, won an award leading to publication, I am connected on the internet in a multitude of ways with readers and other writers. This has been a wonderful gift, but it’s something I really can’t handle as well as I want to and should without buying a modern smartphone. I really saw the need for this when I took the train to and from the Malice Domestic conference in DC, bringing my laptop and finding that advertised wifi connections were not available. People on the newest cellphones weren’t fazed. Going online was part of their cell packages. So I’m facing the purchase of a Blackberry/Android/iPhone sometime in the near future and a cellphone plan. *sigh*
All this connection is a great opportunity for writers and others, but it has a darker side. In a way, it’s the same thing that kept me from a cell phone for all those years. People expect you to be available 24/7. With most, it’s no problem, but there are always, unfortunately, those people like the boss I bought the answering machine to escape who have a faulty sense of boundaries. Where is our shelter from them if they can invade our rest time, our family time, our recharging time? I notice the number of people I have to block on Twitter for spam and the rising number of calls on my unlisted cell phone from salespeople or fundraisers. This doesn’t begin to consider the number of actual friends (some of them friends for years or family members) I’ve asked not to send me game and app invitations on FB who ignore my requests, leaving me to find a way to keep those separate from their genuine messages.
When have we reached too much connection? This is a key question for writers who tend to be introverts and who need lots of time alone and undisturbed in order to write. How connected are you? How do you manage it? What is a good balance for your life? I’d love to know. I’m still finding mine.
[NOTE: I will be out of town when this blog posts, so I may be slightly delayed in my responses to your comments. I will reply as soon as I possibly can.]