Tech vs. Touch

My monthly Comcast bill is $115, which includes cable, internet and a landline phone. My monthly tab at Olympus—my favorite spa—is, coincidentally, almost the same price, and for that I can get a fifty-minute massage, unlimited tea service and a day pass to use the mostly DYI Korean bathhouse-inspired facility with a sauna, soaking pools and themed relaxation rooms. I can easily kill four hours there, including lunch, and walk out feeling brand new. No doubt in my mind, these little, regular self-indulgent retreats make me a better person.

If it’s a game of quantity over quality, one could argue that I get more bang for my buck with Comcast which lets me peruse my email, flick through hundreds of channels, check my horoscope, poke around on YouTube or Wikipedia, say, Tina Turner, who I dig on so many levels. Except the thing is that none of this technology—albeit entertaining—ever says pampered and renewed, a zone that’s becoming increasingly more important to me.

Pampering slows me down, technology speeds me up. In fact, information overload and artificially amped of levels of activity often drive me back to the spa with the little voice in my head urgently chanting, Must turn off. Must turn off. That voice was screaming at me recently when I started using my first-ever smart phone, an upgrade from the ancient low-tech Motorola I had for ten years.

I noticed on day one how it shamelessly begged for my attention, announcing new texts, Facebook activity and emails. It was chiming all the time and I’m not going to lie, it was as seductive and exciting as any new toy and I kept it near me, touched it incessantly and texted until my index finger throbbed. For fun, I GPSed everything too, even well-traveled paths, and snapped and shared silly pictures just because I could —like anybody needed a shot of my thumb ring. Then came the day I was attempting a line-by-line edit of one of my novel manuscripts and while I normally crank out ten pages an hour, it took three because I was that distracted by my phone’s Hey-you’re-missing-the-party-in-here noises.

Beyond my smartphone interfering with my real-world goals, I just don’t have the nervous system for constant contact or being yanked in a dozen different directions. It makes me feel jittery and then spent, which, come to think of it, is also why I’ve never taken to coffee. Maybe I’m not wired for multi-tasking.  Maybe I need regular timeouts to recharge my batteries. Maybe I like for creative projects to dominate my life and drive my behavior, and the more I played with my phone, the more I felt my originality slipping away.

I suppose though that calling an android phone a dream killer is kind of extreme and uncalled for. It doesn’t have a diabolic plot to suck out my spirit, and more importantly, even if it did, my self-control should always trump droid spell-casting. To show it who was boss, I shut the notifications off and began powering down completely when I had to focus on a project or interact with an actual human being and my shoulders dropped three inches.

After my ridiculous non-stop phone fiddling, I had to admit that I went through the same crazy, addictive cycle last year with my free-for-a-year DVR , wasting time recording things I never watched until I finally whittled down to capturing only favorite shows. When Comcast tries to bump up my rate and charge me for the thing in three months, I’ll return it and divert the money to—what else—pampering.

I’m keeping my smartphone though, especially now that I’ve gotten to the handy calendar and notepad and downloaded some exercise, relaxation and recipe apps that I know I’ll use regularly. I can also imagine myself dinking with it during waiting-and-travel dead-time, treating it more like an occasional guilty pleasure than a mindless go-to. I had it turned off while writing this blog, but just got back on for a break before the final edit and guess what I found in my email? A Deal of the Day for a half-price Swedish massage. Got it. Ah, now, that’s what I call using my smartphone smartly.

To pampering,

N. Shami

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