(HOST) From energy saving light bulbs to smart phones, writer and commentator Reeve Lindbergh is bemused by the pervasiveness of new technology – even here in the Green Mountains.
(LINDBERGH) I recently overheard a woman say, "We live off the grid," a phrase I heard frequently twenty years ago, when people were trying to simplify their lives by growing or making more of what they really needed, while consuming less of whatever had to be bought, including electricity. "Living off the grid" meant that you created your own power rather than buying energy from a utility. Depending on what you could afford, you might use wood stoves or solar panels or hydro-power or wind energy or geothermal wells or some combination. The idea was to make greater use of one’s own resources, to demand less from the outside world, and to heed the words of our New England ancestors: "make over, make do, or do without."
I don’t hear much about "living off the grid" these days, and even less about "doing without," especially doing without electricity. We live in interesting times. We can reduce our expenses and our carbon footprints by using energy-saving light bulbs, but we also have computers and are increasingly dependent upon the Internet. Some people actually seem addicted to this new style of communication. Connection must be instant, constant, and available everywhere. We talk or text or tweet or post or email day and night, and carry our phones with us so that this activity can go on uninterrupted, always.
When a friend jumps to answer a cell phone, or someone walks down the street even here in Vermont, with his head bent so low over a tiny screen that he can’t see where he’s going, I wonder where we’re living now. Not "off the grid," that’s for sure. Not "off" anything. We’re always on: online, on the web, on call for family and friends and business associates. I think people are getting kind of jumpy from being "on" all the time, as if little alarms are buzzing at them all day long.
Do we ever take time off? Not just turning off the phone during a concert, or going offline for an hour only to come right back on again and check for messages. I’m talking about off, so that you feel the way someone does who has put up a sign on the door that says "Gone fishing," but doesn’t say where or for how long.
I love communication. I’m a writer, for one thing, and there are people I love all over the world, for another. I work with a computer every day, thrilled that we’ve gone from Dial-up to High Speed connection. I use a cell phone and email and SKYPE, and I’m tempted by Facebook and Twitter. Still, I think about "the grid" and "the net" and "the web." What’s life like on a grid? Can’t you get caught in a net? And isn’t a web sometimes – well – sticky?
The technology is here to stay, though it will keep changing. It’s very exciting, and it’s really useful. But can we learn to relax with it, take it just a little easier?
I hope so.