Refresh; or, The Cure For The Shakes

The Tipping Point

I was firing off some tutor reports on my iPad in peace: Things going well, things we'll work on next semester, things worth late trips to Redbox for a victorious performance on a difficult test. Routine.

My phone "ding"ed next to me, because someone favorited a tweet, and my hand instinctively reached over, my thumb angled via muscle memory in just the right way to smoothly unlock the device, and within little more than seven-tenths of a second, I was suddenly INSIDE Twitter. I dragged my thumb downward and read irritating thoughts that meant nothing to me from people I respected and even liked. It developed into an annoyance. I reached the top of the page, as you, reader, are probably familiar with, and dragged one more dramatic sweep downward to refresh one last time. I didn't want to have missed something that I honestly didn't care much about in the time it took me to scan through the thoughts I didn't care much about.

I got the pinwheel. It broke the Twitter-spell just long enough for me to set the phone down and click on my illuminated Facebook icon on the bottom dock of my iPad. I refreshed that. Repeat with Instagram. Repeat with Wordpress. Repeat with Tumblr. Repeat with Twitter again.

Not ten minutes later, I had driven to Starbucks and found myself facing a line four people long, and I was digging in my pocket to refresh something. The balance on my Gold Card app. The unread messages in my email. In the band's email.

I remembered that I do it in waiting rooms. In living rooms. At a restaurant with my fiancée. I found myself thirsty, looking for the "ahhhhh" that accompanies refreshing, but it never came.

Lost Things and a Panicky Boy

See, I gnaw my lip when I get especially panicky, like in a room full of a lot of people that I don't know or before going to a social function. In those situations, I feel increasingly trapped, so I gnaw. My leg taps somewhat uncontrollably. My hands make fists. Well, I noticed that the more I refreshed, the more I'd gnaw. The more I'd tap. The more people I was in the middle of, feeling trapped, the more I'd retreat into iPhone infinity to escape from it, and the more trapped inside there I'd become.

And what terrified me the most was that I was okay with it. I'd complain all day about how much it sucked being expected to be connected all the time, yet I was never alone when the opportunity was afforded me - I was willingly embracing the leap into the pit of the Information Beyond.

I stopped being able to focus on anything substantial. Loading screens were fifteen second windows where I could see three more tweets that just came through. The Infinity took up so much space that there was none left for me - no table cleared for thoughts of my own or ponderings to consider or Emptiness in which to explore what Emptiness is. Every nook of my brain suddenly needed a "refresh" to provide more things to cram into.

The vastness began to suffocate me, I think. The multi-multi-utility could do so much that I didn't know where to draw the line to stop it. My calendar, my contacts, my notepad ideas, my photographs, my free time, my human interaction, books, Netflix movies, newspapers, informational inquiries, and my Starbucks card, among an abyss full of opportunities for more, were all in the same place. I don't know how okay I am with how comfortable I was with that, but I invited it all the more.

The Problem of Infinity

In the palm of our hands fit the pinnacle of tech innovation - because it can do everything, and it has built into it the potential to expand indefinitely. More memory and more processing and more potential emerge with each successive jump. We used to read tales of intelligent technology and be terrified by them, and now we dang near murder each other on days once reserved or thanks for the smallest, most powerful versions of it to stick in our pockets.

We can't talk to each other anymore because humans don't stimulate like blue-lit screens. Humans are soft and illogical and infinitely more complex than a device, though they possess no code to manipulate into understandable forms. They don't promise "more! now!" so our increasingly lazy brains gravitate towards the things that do. iPhone promises that you'll do less work to get more accomplished; it doesn't make sense with if "more" is what you want to do things the "hard" way.

We can't sit with ourselves anymore because we've been coerced into thinking "alone" = "lonely." We need apps to refresh so that we may reach little moments of refreshing catharsis; we cannot sit and think of nothing, because "nothing" has been branded as inferior to "everything."

We can't plan ahead because we've eliminated the need to think - we have phones that will think for us. They'll google on the fly and navigate to new (or even familiar) locations and allow us to roll around comfortably in our vastly large safety (inter)net. We don't need to keep up with finances or balances or calendars or directions or phone numbers or calorie counts because there's an app for that.

We can't think because unless it's retweeted, it must've not been a very good thought. We can't develop ideas because our refreshings only expose punchlines. We can't interact with dense blocks of text (like this blog, I know, I know) because anything worth saying will be presented in an iPhone screen-friendly, bullet-point format. We can't listen because everything about personal "smart" technology screams at the top of its robotic lungs how marvelous your voice is. How crucial it is that you express yourself honestly. How well you use filters to show your afternoon activities. How individual your blog is because you "reblog" the best stuff.

And Lord, I fell. Headlong. It was (and is) crushing me, squeezing me, asphyxiating me.

A Fix

So I began taking baby steps: - I started carrying a pocket calendar rather than the one at my thumbs on a screen. - I wrote in my Moleskines more rather than tweeting. I allowed myself one tweet for every 2 Moleskine thoughts. Then every 4. Then every 6. Then I tweeted because I felt that it seemed expected of me. - I removed my Facebook app from my phone. I still have an account, and will probably keep it, but I no longer had the ability to mainline it on a commercial break. - I turned off my devices at night. Then also when I was driving. Then also when I was in sessions.

Improvement came, but I still found myself with that instinctive iPhone reach/refresh. It wasn't enough to just cut back on usage. I suppose I should have seen that coming; you don't just tell a heroin junkie to do less smack.

So a few weeks ago I took a bigger step, and on Friday I fulfilled the step when this item was delivered to me. I bought a junky pink (it said it was silver online, but honestly, I don't even care a little bit) phone from Amazon for $20. I activated it. And then I sat and wrote this blog longhand in a sadly neglected journal now happy and full with fresh ink over two cups of coffee, away from any device at all. For two hours straight.

Sure, I'm not accessible 24 hours a day by email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the myriad of social media. I may not be able to check my Starbucks balance at the drop of a hat. I won't have perpetual access to IMDB for those crucial "What was he in?" moments. I can't rely on Google to answer things I don't know the answer to every time I have a question. I don't have an interactive atlas that will take me anywhere I need to go. Everything I use to define myself - my bank account, my twitter feed, my scratched-down coffee break thoughts, my Internet access - won't be in one place, comfortable in the crook of my back pocket.

But perhaps that's the point.

And boy, am I refreshed.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.