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Shunning Technology

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I am beginning to suspect that the world is leaving me behind.

This morning, I dutifully signed in to Facebook to check our Expat page and discovered that someone was trying to “add” me as a friend. It was my grandmother.

My grandmother is 82 years old. She grew up on a farm in rural Ireland without electricity, but now she logs on to the internet on her laptop to check Facebook and send me chirpy messages from her front room in the UK.

I can only admire her ability to accept change, but as my Grandma moves confidently into the 21st century, I feel that I am drifting back, and being increasingly left behind by the boat of gadget aficionados whose entire lives are global and based on or around technology.

I was resistant to Facebook for a very long time, and have absolutely no interest in sharing each banal thought that crosses
my brain on Twitter. What, really, does Twitter add to anyone’s life?

My mobile phone is the same basic pink one I got three years ago that has no internet capabilities and a useless camera. People have urged me to get a smartphone, but so far the only benefit they can list is that I can check my emails every two seconds (great, now work can follow me 24/7!) and that I can Google useless facts whenever I need to. Brilliant.

Each weekend, I sit down, pick up one of those antique objects called A Pen, and write A Letter to my parents. And they write me one back. Yes, the news is old by the time they get it (and vice versa), but nothing compares to the rush of pleasure I get when I find an envelope in my mailbox. Dashed off emails can never compare with carefully thought-out words that are written across a page.

I also read newspapers. And not just your average real-life newspapers; I read the pink, UK-produced Financial Times which comes in a whopper broadsheet size that is an absolute pain to fold. It is cumbersome, unwieldy, and the news is not a la minute, but oh, how I love it.

Struggling to fold the large, weighty sheets on the busy train in the morning makes me feel a warm kinship with the many people, through the ages, that have similarly struggled with the broadsheet beast and annoyed fellow transport passengers in the process. How would I get this warm fuzz of comfort with a homepage and a mouse?

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My Mum keeps expounding on the brilliance of her new Kindle, and truly it is amazing, until I ask if I can borrow a book. Not only does the Kindle make reading impossible to share, it also deprives me (and the few like me) of the joy of rooting through the tatty old books at the flea market or running my hands along the spines at the book shop. Disappearing into a world of stories is made all the more amazing by feeling the pages beneath my fingers. Would it be the same with a small, shiny rectangle of hardware?

Malaysia, perhaps even more than many other countries, is a hive of technology, and everyone seems to go slightly loopy over the latest gimmick and gadget, spending thousands of ringgit on new phones, iPads, and the rest of that ‘life changing” gadgetry. Did it change your life, I want to ask? Or did it just add an extra set of complications?

Owners of shiny, expensive hardware have to be cautious about dropping it, losing it, getting it snatched or stolen or spilt on by a rogue splash of sambal. The battery could die, the data could get wiped for no reason whatsoever and, horror of horrors, work is able to contact you by email every second of the day. That doesn’t much sound like simplifying one’s life.

Technology makes us lazy, it gives us things we don’t really need, and then makes us believe they have changed our lives. Will the world stop if I don’t change my Facebook status or reply to that message? Does anyone really care that they can now satisfy their every niggling query and question with a few taps into Wikipedia?

Life is real, not virtual. However clever and amazing technology and the world of the internet may be, it doesn’t actually exist, and it can offer us little or no gratification of our basic human needs. Even more pertinent, it can never replicate the quirky, enjoyable sensation of real interaction, real paper, real people.

So now I wiggle and fold my pink paper with glee on the train, and revel in not being able to carry work emails in my pocket. If I’m old-fashioned, then so be it. Life is more stimulating when lived in the real world!

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