On my son's 25th birthday we sat around eating beautiful Greek pastries and drinking coffee, together around a table, phones away and love all around. We hadn't seen each other for some time, so it was so nice to sit around and chat. Noticeably absent was my parents, who were in their serviced apartment near the Peter Mac cancer centre in Melbourne. They couldn't come for lunch or afternoon tea because of my father's treatment. Whilst they are unfailingly positive, they have also missed many occasions, such as my cousin's wedding. We called them on Facebook, setting the phone up against the wall so that they could chat with us whilst we shoved our faces full of baklava and kaitifi.
After we hung up, we talked about the wonders of modern technology. 'When I was pregnant', I tell them 'I rang Mum from the phone box in Queensland and didn't call her again for six weeks, only seeing her when I landed on her doorstep'. Poor Mum. She must have worried. I didn't call because I was a little freaked out about dealing with the whole baby thing. Unmarried and pregnant to a guy I'd known as long as the baby was old, it was something I had to come to terms with - talking to my parents wasn't part of that psychological plan.
These days, of course, I would have left my son a million messages on every social media he was on, let alone call all his mates, until he answered. Technology is pretty awesome like that. It would have made it a lot easier when I lived overseas for six years too - I always recall receiving a photo of my nephew via email and it taking an hour to load on the old dial up modem. First the forehead, then the eyes, then the chin. Now you can send hundreds of baby photos in seconds, and video call in real time.
So when Ladies of Hive asked whether I long for simpler times without technology, it can't be a yes or no answer. Of course I love the technology that enables my son and his girlfriend's ultrasound to be messaged to me the moment they get it. In my day, it was on VHS, and you got a copy if you were lucky. Rewind, fastforward. And I love that advances in technology means that two years ago the immunotherapy trial me Dad is on for his cancer wasn't subsidised by the government because it wasn't as developed or researched, and now it is, meaning they don't have to mortgage their home to have a chance at life.
But there's a deep longing in me to go back to days where we didn't have as much technology. We spoke affectionately to my son and his girl about old dial up phones. They didn't think we were that old. We aren't, not really, but technology has developed so fast that in less than a generation we've gone from the inkling of the internet to having it in our pockets. And it's hard to describe what that was like to the young. It certainly feels like a golden time, to remember it.
There's things that really bug me about technology. We're expected to be on hand, all the time, for everyone. We're bombarded with messages and demands. We can be influenced by powerful institutions in culture changing ways, such as Facebook determining election results and Google deciding what we should be looking at and censoring what we can't. Surveillance is Orwellian and there is no freedom anymore, or even the illusion of it. One can no longer disappear. Even the night sky is darkening as if in protest, but really because the very rich can afford to send satellites out there to obscure the stars in a pretence of making life better by enhancing communication.
I'm not sure of the truth of big technologies bringing people together or improving our lives. I don't think we ever needed fridges that can order our groceries or even online navigation tools - surely a pen and paper and a paper map worked perfectly fine? And quicker doesn't mean better. It just means we're more impatient.
I miss finding my way in the world without Google maps, using my in built sense of direction and asking strangers for tips. I miss being lost. I miss talking on the phone for hours without texting. I miss a sense of discovery. I miss the mystery. I miss waiting for things. I miss reading real books. I miss our attention spans. I miss being the first to discover a new place without social influencers telling me about the new place or telling everyone about it so it doesn't feel new anymore.
In fact, nothing seems new and amazing with technology anymore. Most of the time I just shrug at new inventions - the awe of putting man on the moon is long gone. Now I'm amazed more at the not man made - the mycellium that has the potential to cure cancer, the animals that mutate to survive changing climates, the human kindnesses that still exist in the world.
But I suppose I wouldn't know about all those without the internet.
This post is in response to the Ladies of Hive challenge number 81, which you can read and enter here.
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