Don’t Get Too High Tech

My mom is always making my dad get rid of things. Although she’s always telling me how many storage units she’s gotten him to parse down and empty, he pretty consistently texts me childhood drawings, old photos, or other random long forgotten items that he comes across in cardboard boxes.

Today he texted me this letter slipped into some sort of time capsule that my twin neighbors and I made almost 17 years ago to the day:

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.02.07 PM

I loved making time capsules as a kid. A few years ago I found the one tucked into the deep abysses of my grandmother’s basement that my siblings, my cousins, and I had made in 1999. The mini Entenmann’s doughnut added by my cousin Mason was still distinguishable, which was both remarkable and unsettling.

I am 90% sure the handwriting is mine – my lowercase r’s were always a bit overextended, like an umbrella to the next letter over, and I remember being so completely bummed when nothing happened on Y2K. There had been so much hype, and I thought all computers fitzing out would lead to an exciting extended blackout situation, when everything would just came to a stop and we would light candles and run around chasing fireflies and telling spooky stories till … maybe forever, if we couldn’t reeducate the computers. When I woke up on January 1, 2000 and realized I could make breakfast without having to forage for berries or hunt venison, it was a major let down.

Anyway, I guess today I’ve been wondering what my apparent concern about being “too high tech” was all about. I know when I was 11 I did not yet have AOL, which was essentially my introduction to pre-social media. I used computers for maybe a few homework assignments, but mostly for playing computer games. I distinctly remember enjoying computer games (not video games, of which the only two I had any interest in were Super Mario 64 and the sexist snowboarding game 1080, don’t even get me started) that had to do with people and places – Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Sim City, Nanosaur, some game where you ran a Crayon Factory (weird), like every 90s American kid – The Oregon Trail, and The Sims.

Funny naming  all those games now – Come to think about it, they all contain some sort of topic I’m still interested in to this day:

Carmen San Diego: Mysteries, true crime, international intrigue, travel, badass solo female travelers

The Oregon Trail: American history, adventure, the great outdoors, camping out, purchasing supplies in bulk (Amazon = the new American general store?), avoiding death in the form of snake bites and/or cholera (in my case Langton Street splat rats *shudder* and getting hit by cars)

Sim City: Design, beautiful buildings, beautification, community, emergency disaster preparation, living in fear/anticipation of my first earthquake

The Crayon Factory: Colors, design, mixing and matching patterns, finding beauty in colors, alignment, lines, and circles, efficient processes, business practices

The Sims: I enjoyed everything up until actually “playing” The Sims. I would create all kinds of people – friends, family members, imaginary folk I made up – and spend hours designing how they looked, what they wore, what their different personality levels were. Then I’d put their lives on pause while I built them the most insane pimped out houses ever – Everyone knew the cheat code that would give you stacks of Sims Dollars, it was something like rosebud?!?!?!?! and you’d copy/paste it a million times in a row and when you’d hit Enter you’d watch your Sims Dollars go through the roof, and you could go construct yourself whatever kind of house you could think of and fill it with out of this world things. I mainly constructed Victorian style homes with lots of bookshelves and bay windows, which is not far from the real life I live today (although I must admit I live amongst the San Francisco Victorians, but not in one). Also, it was fun to get your Sims to fight, duke it out with the occasional Grim Reaper, and yes, I admit, do the nasty. It took properly configured personality levels and a lot of Simtalk (heated arguments between attractive Sims really seemed the best way to get things going), all while keeping an eye for POS (AOL speak for Parent Over Shoulder, lol). But after a quick Google search it seems that a little Sim sexual experimentation was pretty juvenile, people are really twisted (Google search not recommended).

Nanosaur: The one game that was less of a “computer game” in my mind but much more of a video game. Something about being a dinosaur and running around a violent dinosaur land in search of some eggs. Sort of the outlier here but it came on all the multi-colored Macs and was honestly a hell of a time.

All this to say that I wasn’t a young techie by any means, and I can’t really remember what I would have been so concerned about to write a foreboding letter to a bunch of unknown future folk. We’d always had a computer and by the early 2000s we had several in the house, so it would have been nothing new. I remember my dad telling us we were moving on to high speed Internet at some point, and we’d no longer have to yell at each other to get off the phone or switch out the ethernet cords or listen to that start up jangle. I can still hear it, but having a hard time coming up with the onomatopoeia to describe it. However, perhaps at the time I was reading a lot about Y2K and computer systems in the New York Post, which I read every morning since it opened like a book and was written for absolute nincompoops and future Trump supporters.

But today I realized what a little slave to technology I have become! While biking home yesterday evening from a burner party out at China Beach, my iPhone fell out of my pocket while I was crossing a major intersection. I think the cars had the right of way for about 25 seconds, and it honestly was not till the 22nd second that the final car rode over my phone. If you can even call that thing a phone anymore – Photos, Tweets, messages, messages to friends abroad, my banks, my music … And I can make calls on it if I absolutely must/sending a text would be weird/FaceTime feels too invasive. But unfortunately even the LifeProof case I bought for it a year ago (after forgoing a case and having to get the screen fixed twice in one month, they don’t call me “Spill” for nothing) did not protect the screen from shattering.

Which made me recall – When I was 16 I had an iPod mini, a bright pink little thing with a very Apple sleek white circle in the middle where you could fast forward, rewind, etc. The screen itself was still black and white, but it was simple. It played music, I had a cell phone for calls and texts and other stuff I did at the bank or on the computer at home.

That iPod mini also fell out of my pocket while crossing an intersection (this time I was walking) and just like yesterday evening I stood on a corner with bated breath, watching as every single car miraculously passed over it, til that last car’s front right wheel flew over it, jolting the device around on the pavement. I ran out and picked it up off the ground – The crazy thing was, it still worked! The screen was about 3/4 not broken, so I just couldn’t see the album name of the song I was listening to. The white wheel worked well enough for me to scroll and select songs, music played into my ears, and the best part? When the car had driven over the iPod, it scratched some of the pink color off of the skin in jagged edges, revealing the cool silver color underneath. It looked like a very edgy pink/silver zebra pattern that today they probably make cases for. I used that iPod for many years.

And my iPhone 6? Well the LifeProof case is actually fine (they would have gotten a letter if it wasn’t) but the screen is totally black and cracked. I thought it was dead as a doornail, but all day today it acted as my little beeper, buzzing or vibrating each time I got a text or an email. So there’s still some little sort of light inside.

I had a Skype call scheduled at 8am with my friend Julia today, she lives in Israel and has a one year old kid. I knew I couldn’t oversleep this call, I barely have enough time to get myself to bed on time and she needs to tuck in a baby boy with a man bun.  As I drifted off to sleep last night I wondered how I would wake up without my alarm – Should I email Julia and let her know that I might be late because I’d be waking up on my body clock?

But I didn’t, the sleep catching up with me before a decision could be made, and I ended up waking up around the time that I normally do – 6:15am. Granted, I had fallen asleep at like 10pm. But there’s something to be said for routine and  an earlier-rising sun.

After we got off the phone I was feeling a little anxious as I have been lately, and decided to go lie out in the sun at the pool for exactly one hour. I lay down on the beach chair and immediately felt the urge to tune out the chorus of happy children in the wading pool, and thus reached for my bag to pull out my phone and earbuds. Nope, no phone today Alice. Just relax, sit back, and think of nothing.

So I immediately starting running through pricing models for my mom’s business, and all of the sudden needed a calculator at that very absolute instant, and reached for my bag again – No phone, no calculator. Shucks.

Then I realized my Airbnb app was on my phone – I hadn’t checked today for messages because I couldn’t get any notifications! What if the guest had written me and I wasn’t responding and then she left a bad review and the house burned down and Airbnbettr up in flames along with it??

At this point I realized I was the opposite of relaxing, and it was about five degrees too chilly to be sitting out in a bikini anyway. I biked home in defeat and immediately checked all my emails and texts and Airbnb messages on my computer when I walked in the door.

Nada. Absolutely nada. What a feeling. Technology, I thought, who needs it?

I had to go over to Brian’s to talk shop, and I knew I needed a walk. I love listening to music when I walk, I’ve graduated from CD player to built in Nokia radio to iPod to iPhone over the years. I can walk without but really prefer not to – For these situations I still keep an old iPod that came with the laptop computer I purchased in 2009 (they’d throw one in if you were a student).

The UI is totally different – The background is just black, the apps are shaped differently, you can’t navigate from app to app by hitting the home button, and you can hear the phone sort of recalibrating when you switch from song to song before the first one ends.

I only actually found out about the fingerprint recognition feature a few months ago, it was something I always just clicked “Skip” on figuring it was still in beta and would just piss me off. But I’ve gotten quite used to it since let’s say last January, my thumb even hotter that it has become in recent years.

While walking over to Brian’s I couldn’t figure out what mood I was in, and kept getting fed up with a song halfway through. And so many times, just out of muscle memory, I’d place my silly thumb on the 2009 iPod home button and wait for the magic to happen. Just like those videos of babies trying to swipe paper issues of Time Magazine, I was waiting for the device to recognize ME, my thumb, my digit, and for the screen to change before my eyes and present me with something tantalizing. Only this time I had to press, swipe, then scroll. Oh the horror.

Even though my computer has everything on it – Gmail, iMessage, FaceTime, Airbnb – the works, I still felt some sort of lack today without my phone. I couldn’t pull it out to take photos. I couldn’t pull up Spotify. I got home and checked my email and had two new messages! I’m usually notified on my phone beforehand, and realized it’s now less of a feeling of “Ah, mail!” and more of a “Wow, that message is stressful, I’m going to mark as unread, block it from my mind, and deal with later” or a “Damn it, wish I was at my computer right now so I could respond with a real keyboard”. Because no matter what I still hate touch screen keypads. Long live Blackberry #bbm.

So that’s the end of a long free write on technology, new and old, and how today I am a semi-slave to it. I have gotten high tech enough to the point that I’m on my computer but still yearning to reach for my iPhone so I can hold down my thumb print, open an app, and scroll through a bunch of memes while simultaneously watching a TV show, building a website, responding to a work email when I’ve said I won’t til tomorrow, and spending an hour or more free writing on WordPress when I really should be going to bed in the hopes of the natural sunlight waking me up yet again to start another week of LIFE AS I KNOW IT!

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
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