Friday, September 11, 2009

Big Brother Is Watching, and Boy, Is He Confused

This is not really about the shenanigans of Wired's Evan Ratliff, who is trying to disappear off the face of this way-too-connected-and-nosey earth in an effort to see if we truly are way too connected and nosey.

This is about, Hey, I'm Jealous and Why Can't the Rest of Us Do This?

Ratliff has written his own sociological experiment and cast himself as the leading man. He is attempting to stay "lost" for 30 days, beginning back on Aug. 15. No texting, no Twittering, none of that awful Facebook business. He'll likely have to avoid hidden cameras (and they are everywhere) at grocery stores, malls, ATMs, wherever. He has probably had to turn to using cash instead of debit cards, just to cover his trail.

In a word, he's kicking Big Brother's you-know-what and making him spin around in circles.

Big Brother was an Orwellian leader long before it was a lame reality TV show. And lest you think this sounds a little like Amy Is On Lortab, maybe you should reread 1984 and join the paranoia party with me. Because people, this is a crazy train. And nobody is requiring you to ride. Hop off at any time, and live in ignorance with me. It's a beautiful place.

And I know many of you are looking to relocate to a less-connected place, as evidenced by the accidental tourists who land here. According to this morning's stats, 19.92 percent of visitors to this site arrive by Googling "i hate texting." Maybe they're looking for a support group, a kindred spirit, ways to break the habit, I have no idea. But whatever you're looking for, I hope you've found that you're not alone. I hate texting, too. My hatred toward texting is so fierce that we forbid the practice in our family and slap fines of $1 per text on the one kid who even has a cell phone. And just so you'll know, we politely ask guests not to text. At one summer party involving pre-teens, the cell phones popped out the minute they walked in the door. I quietly walked over to a group of girls and their texting ways, and I politely informed them, "Put the phones away, or I'll put them away until your parents pick you up." So that made my kids the most popular kids in school. I don't care. My house. My rules.

But texting is only a small part of a much larger problem. I call it the Gladys Kravitz Generation. Everyone is looking through virtual windows at everyone else, tapping everyone on the virtual shoulder, being all virtually nosey.

Back in the day, parents teetered on espionage by unearthing a diary or journal in their kid's bedroom. I long for those days. Now, we have the internet to help us do our job, and let's just admit here that sometimes it's just TMI. We are exposed to and are guilted into absorbing too much information every day. And it's exhausting.

I was dining on a delicious chicken sandwich with friends recently, and as they were comparing notes about school websites and homework assignments and grade reporting practices and all those things that were totally foreign to parents a generation ago and make us totally anxious and occasionally ticked-off, I wiped my mouth and asked, "Don't you ever wish we didn't even have access to this stuff?"

And you could have heard a pin drop, when Tommy stopped and locked the door. (Sorry--my inner Kenny Rogers just oozed out.)

"What do you mean?"

"What I MEAN is," I explained, while polishing off my daughter's fries, "don't you wish it didn't even exist? All this technology? Like there was still a mystique about report cards and 'incompletes' and 'tardies' and missed homework assignments?"

"I've never really thought about it."

"Maybe you should. Maybe we all should. It doesn't mean you love your kids less if you don't stay on top of their homework or grades. Just enjoy the excitement of report card time, and deal with it then. In the meantime, let the kids handle their business." As a policy, it sounds perfectly reasonable. In reality, we know the follow-through will be shoddy. It's not our fault; we already have access. It's hard to turn back.

I'll come clean, here: I do check my kids' grades. Not daily. Maybe not even weekly. But I do it. Not because I have a burning desire to help them with math, but because I need the occasional bargaining tool.

"Take you to a movie? I don't think so. You pull up that science grade, then we'll talk."

When iHomes and TVs are blaring at top volume and the noise is deafening, I pay a little visit to the computer, and sometimes, the hammer comes down with a painful blow. "Turn that music down and go read some history, would you? And for not turning in an assignment last Wednesday? Mop the kitchen floor."

My techno-fatigue may be part of a larger disorder, but I remain unapologetic. I know enough to get by, and that's enough. For me, anyway. I still refer to my cell phone as a "car phone." It's a respectable pocket-size model that I received as a gift some four years ago. (I didn't ask for it.) It does not have texting capabilities, unless you know how to type in Hindi or whatever is required when using number keys as letters. It does not take pictures. It stays in my car and never crosses the threshold into my house. I do not Twitter. I do not have a Facebook page. If we know each other, I may tell you how tired I am or that I'm baking apple brown betty, but I generally keep those things to myself and not on a real-time APB.

So, considering my relative abstinence from technology, could I disappear for 30 days without a trace? In a snap. And without a 12-step program. For all you know, I could have played shuffleboard with Evan Ratliff on the lido deck yesterday afternoon.

I didn't. But I could have.

Have a happy (and text-free) weekend . . .