Under the Wire

Call me stupid, but I like technology.

I have a cell phone, a laptop computer, a wireless home network, an iPod, cable TV that includes my home phone and an Xbox 360 so I can play video games against people throughout the world. I even possess what may be man’s greatest invention, the DVR, which means I can watch Heroes after the kids go to bed, pause the Cavs game to go to the bathroom or always have an episode of Zoey 101 on hand to keep my daughters occupied.

Do I read fewer books? Absolutely. Do I spend too much time watching reality shows, checking e-mail and playing video games? Probably.

But I can also work from home — in any room of the house — if one of my kids is sick and can’t go to school. My wife can do online Web updates for work at any time, day or night. My son can learn about new animals online at National Geographic Kids while completing his nightly reading assignment. (And did I mention I can play Madden NFL ’08 online against people anywhere in the country? That way, at least one version of the Browns can actually win a few games.)

Maybe I’m too old to be part of author Mark Bauerlein’s Dumbest Generation (that is, anyone under 30 made ignorant by technology, coddled by political correctness and handed too much too soon). Or maybe I’m not smart enough to grasp all the consequences of my actions. But in my book (er, blog), technology is good.

So, yes, I was skeptical when associate editor Andy Netzel wanted to give up all techonology not in common use before his birthday in September 1980.

We’d been through this before: An auto addict who drove about 2,000 miles per month, Andy gave up his car for a month during the dead of winter for “A Car-free Life” (March 2008). I thought he was nuts then, but the right amount of crazy can make for a good story.

This was different. Andy, a gadget junkie, wanted to go Luddite for a year to write aCleveland Magazine piece (see page 84) and eventually a book.

I chuckled. Thiswas different: It was going to affectme. “You do realize we use computers to put out this magazine,” I said. Andy seemed unaffected. No problem: He’d have rules, he said.

Right. Like, this can only last a month, I countered.

And that was all the encouragement he needed: Good-bye, BlackBerry; hello, Franklin planner. Kiss off, iMac; love ya, 1940s typewriter.

“He’d better be careful,” one staffer commented, “or he won’t have anything left to give up. And then what’s he going to write about?”

But Andy was happy. He discovered the city’s only remaining typewriter store. He pounded away on his old-school keys. He wrote memos in duplicate. He read books. He learned a new skill. He’d just stop by my office to chat.

Everyone else was miserable: Office doors were closed to keep out the clack-clack-dinging. Quick e-mails disappeared into the ether. No question could be Googled. Everything was an “original” and couldn’t be misplaced. Interns had to retype every word he wrote so it could be printed in the magazine.

One editor even begged to get into the story, saying, “All this experiment has been is one big pain in the ass for everyone around you.”

Honestly, I’d have to agree. But that doesn’t mean the project wasn’t worth all the hassle.

Because whether techology actually helps bring us together or pushes us farther apart, sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re all connected in ways that are often hard to fully comprehend. And strengthening those bonds is the only way to improve our lives and the world around us.
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