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Periodicals > Link-Up Digital
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Can You Love a Machine?
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Link-Up Digital

Is it still possible to wax poetic these days? What about waxing poetic about a device made of plastic, metal, and silicon?

Do you also fall head over heels in love with your primary digital device? These days the device that sweeps most people off their feet is their smartphone. The third and latest Trends in Consumer Mobility Report from Bank of America reveals an ever-growing daily dependence on these devices in the U.S. today, particularly though not exclusively among young people.

On an average day, 39% of millennials, those 18 to 34 years old, say they’re more likely to interact with their smartphone than anyone or anything else, including their significant other. As a whole, Americans are more than twice as likely to interact with their smartphone than their children.

These devices are demanding. The study shows that two-thirds of adults feel the appropriate response time to a text is under an hour, with 43% saying under 10 minutes and 10% thinking it should be instantly.

And we want more than one. Fifty-nine percent of respondents own multiple mobile devices, and 24% own three or more. Digital device dependence, sometimes called digital addiction or Internet addiction, is one of the downsides to the upside of the connectivity, information access, and entertainment value provided by computers and their smaller digital cousins.

One key test is whether your use of the technology is helping your overall life or hurting it. Are you going overboard, spending too much time with your device to the detriment of your work, academic, family, social, or personal life?

In this sense digital dependence is no different from any other activity that you can become obsessed with, doing it compulsively, including shopping, gambling, and exercise. At this extreme it falls under the rubric of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

With me, I don’t think I’m obsessed, but I freely admit to being smitten, particularly with my laptop. While smartphones are better as consumption devices, letting you conveniently read and respond to texts, emails, Facebook posts, tweets, and so on, laptop and desktop computers remain superior production devices, helping you get real work done.

I’ve been using a 14.0-inch Windows 7 Acer laptop—not Lenovo, not HP, not Dell, but Acer—for six years now. Before that my primary work machines were all desktops. I now also now rely heavily on my iPhone, and my TomTom GPS let me seamlessly do a lengthy cross-North America road trip. But I get most of my work done on my laptop. And it may be dying. That makes me sad.

A couple of weeks ago it started shutting down on its own. Turning it over, the underside is hot, too hot, so it’s shutting down from overheating. I’m guessing there’s a fair amount of dust accumulated inside. I plan to take it to a local computer store to have them try to blow out the dust.

Also, two of its keys don’t work as well as they used to. To get the 9 key and the right bracket key to work, I have to bang them pretty hard. Replacing these keys would be more expensive than the machine is worth.

In the meantime, I’ve been spending time preparing its replacement, a 15.5-inch Windows 10 Lenovo laptop that I’ve had with me for about a year and a half as a backup and someday replacement.

But I’m sentimental about the Acer and would like to keep using it as long it serves me well. I’m still able to use it by placing it on top of four metal brackets, one under each corner, to allow for airflow underneath it as I work and as it sits idle without me. This keeps it cool enough so it no longer shuts down. For now. Earth to earth, dust to dust. Eventually we have to say goodbye to that which we love, or they have to say goodbye to us.

Machines aren’t flesh and blood. I love my children more. I love my girlfriend more. I love my dad and my sister more. But I still love this Acer.

Way back in 1854, in his classic book Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” The industrial age then was beginning to kick into high gear. Today, in our post-industrial digital age, our tools have just become smaller. The trick is mindfulness. If you approach it as appropriate technology, you use it selectively, to your benefit.

You control your tools. They don’t control you.


Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgoldsborough@gmail.com or reidgold.com.


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