Unlimited nights and weekends; or, how much is too much?
A U.S. Patent and Trademark Office official with zero foresight is rumored to have once said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” In retrospect, that statement is pretty ludicrous. It does, however, bring up an interesting question: How much is too much stuff? At what point do our accessories become a bane instead of a boon to our lives?
It’d be nothing short of stupid for me to say that we should stop inventing stuff. Research and development by companies, universities and governments have increased the quality of life exponentially. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used a radio to alert the nation that we were going to war, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting used television to bring “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” into my childhood. Yet at the same time, one cannot wonder whether more communicative technology has had a detrimental effect on other aspects of our lives.
Student Life’s staff editorial from nine days ago was about a topic very near and dear to the lives of college students: stress. One question I’ve spent quite a lot of time pondering is whether it’s worth my while to subscribe to the latest services or buy the newest gadgets. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone, and I love my computer. I use e-mail and Facebook numerous times daily. I just do not know how to weigh their benefits against their costs. In short, they stress me out.
I feel constantly at the mercy of anyone who can call, text, instant message, e-mail or Facebook message my right pocket. Add on top of that the myriad other means that can be used to get my attention, and I’m pretty much on a rope of constant contact. With these communications come constant expectations of answering the phone or replying to texts. I’ll provide an example: In January I received a text message from a Pittsburgh friend, who said: “What’re you up to?” I replied (truthfully) “I’m in Australia.” To me it’s both impressive and a bit creepy that a conversation like this could even occur. That I could be found in Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary by someone in Pennsylvania served only to solidify the leash I feel I’m on.
I’ve gotten e-mails from professors at 1 a.m. I frequently receive them around 11. It’s perplexing, really—do they actually expect replies? If so, that seems insane, though sadly it’s often the case that a response is needed before the morning.
Now, there’s a really strong counter-argument to be made in support of communications technology. If plans change, you can tell a friend to meet you at the other end of the mall or let them know you’re going to be late. In emergencies, people can contact whomever they need to. Consider historic events. How would NASA have passed on the “We’re about to launch you into space” to Alan Shepard without a radio?
Doing away with the communications leashes we’re on would be a terrible idea. But is ratcheting up their usage the best option for us? I cannot speak for everybody else, but when I really want to cut the stress, I walk outside without my phone. Nobody can contact me and, as a result, I cannot feel obligated to reply to a message I didn’t receive. It’s a phenomenal sensation. Somewhere in my mind a little bit of stress goes away when freedom from contact enters the picture.
The question I pose is not whether we should scrap our cellular phones. It’s not a black-or-white matter with electronic communications. It’s about moderation. Are we too reliant on our ability to text message friends 11 time zones away? Do we all need to step back from our devices for the sake of our sanity? I can safely say that oftentimes I need to.