An Unplanned Break from Technology

I didn’t intend to go two weeks without blogging. Honestly, I didn’t. We did have ambitious plans for traveling over the holidays to visit family. First Georgetown, SC from Dec. 22-25, then to Perry, GA from Dec. 25-26, then to Athens, GA until New Year’s Day. That’s a lot of travel, especially with three kids (including a newborn) and two adults in a jam-packed Toyota Prius.

Nonetheless, I had committed to putting up a few blog posts over the holidays to keep up the momentum that I had built over the last couple of months. I had dozens of photos of recent work all on the ready – Christmas presents for the kids, a couple of spoons that I bought from fellow spoon carvers, and I even managed to finish assembling my Windsor chair the day before we left (!)

Then, on the second day of vacation, I lost my phone, and all of my pictures along with it. I suspect it’s somewhere on a muddy dirt road outside of Florence, SC.

Thus began an unexpected two-week technological hiatus.

It was pretty annoying at first. The first couple of days, I found myself patting my pockets or fumbling for my phone at least every hour. Kids are doing something cute and you want to snap a photo? Driving somewhere and need directions? Cooking a meal and need to look up a recipe? Is the siren song of Facebook beckoning your subconscious? (The first three scenarios are perfectly legitimate reasons for owning a smartphone. But it’s embarrassing – or at least it should be – when you become aware that the latter is the most common reason for reaching for the phone).

As the week wore on, I began to find myself more relaxed and more appreciative of the moments, no longer reaching reflexively for the endless distractions that are typically available at my fingertips. On many occasions, I found myself sitting in the living room at my Dad’s house and noticing that I was the only member of the family over the age of six whose eyes weren’t glued to a 5″ screen. During those moments, I truly appreciated being disconnected from the digital world.

To be honest, there was no need for me to have a smartphone during those two weeks. I was with my wife and children at all times. We didn’t need to coordinate dinner times or evening schedules. I had a week-old son. I know from previous experience that newborns don’t stay newborns forever. My sister and brother-in-law and their four kids were visiting from Wisconsin. My brothers and their families from South Georgia as well. I won’t have many more days with my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Everything I needed was right before me, and I think that my holiday was all the more special because I wasn’t distracted by social media and email and blogging.

Yet, as enjoyable as it was to have a break, don’t expect me to give up my smartphone any time soon. The phone is a popular whipping-boy for those who wish to denounce the aloofness of modern society, but if there was something else I noticed during my vacation, it’s that my phone serves as a powerful way to connect me to people who teach and inspire and cause me to think. I’ll admit that I missed keeping up with Peter Follansbee’s new workshop and Joshua Klein’s upcoming magazine. I missed the constant stream of spoons and bowls and creativity from the Greenwoodworking group on Facebook.

The whole point of starting this blog was to foster connections with woodworkers and others who appreciate handcrafts. For a decade, I’ve drunk freely from the fountain of information that is available on the internet – forums, websites, and blogs have been a steady source of ideas and encouragement. Yet for whatever reason (nostalgia?) society maintains a very different opinions of books and magazines versus mobile electronic devices.

I’m not immune to it myself (I am, after all, a member of society). Last year, I was sitting on the boardwalk at the harbor of in my city, waiting for my wife and kids to meet me for dinner. I pulled out my phone and began reading Chris Schwarz’s latest blog post. Suddenly, I felt a twinge of guilt and embarrassment. There I was in a beautiful location, couples passing by hand-in-hand, boats pulling up to the docks as the sun approached the horizon, and here I was lost in my little digital world looking like a stereotypical millenial. Just as quickly, I realized that I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious if  I were reading it printed on pulped spruce garnished with an artsy hardcover.

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There is something romantic about curling up with a good book in a quiet public space, but the smartphone is too new for any romanticism to be attached to it. Oh well. It’s a tool like any other. It’s up to us to be the masters and not the servants when it comes to our tools. I think anyone who prefers hand tools can appreciate the distinction. I think there’s a beautiful bit of irony in the fact that the hand tool renaissance has been enabled by 21st century technology.

As always with matters related to science and technology, xkcd.com offers up an appropriate comic:

Happy Belated Holidays, everyone.

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