On The Fly: Signs We Are Disconnecting

It's become fashionable these days to say things like "disconnect to connect" -- a concept that suggests our excessive virtual lives detract from our real ones. Everywhere I look, which is primarily online, I read about the evils that come from being wired all the time -- the damage it causes our families, our children, our work-home life balance.

Frankly, they are preaching to the choir. For years now, I've given disapproving looks to the guy in the elevator who talks on his phone in a loud voice the whole way down to the parking garage or the woman who walks down the street "talking to nobody" with her plugs stuck in her ears. You don't need to tell me that it's unhealthy for my 12-year-old kid to play Minecraft his every waking minute or that it's terrifying to think he could chat with Internet strangers. Or that the selfies that some 15 year olds think are cool to post to Facebook could actually hurt their chances of getting into college. I also know about the compulsive addiction of checking email nonstop and vividly recall the Mom who took her 10-year-old for ice cream and texted furiously the whole time, only to ask her kid afterward, "That was fun, now wasn't it?" I know it because that was me.

No, I know all that stuff and I've been heartened that the world -- at least its Cultural Approval Department -- has started to shift gears and discourage our total involvement with our phones and tablets (even though it's been kind of nifty to be able to settle a cocktail party argument of whether jellyfish have brains with a simple Google search).

I credit the disengagement to public pressure, the same kind that made smoking cigarettes uncool a few decades ago. I don't know if we'll see the day when you step outside in a vestibule of the building to make a cell call, joining all the other nicotine -- I mean phone -- addicts, but I suppose it could happen.

But lately, I've noticed something else: Not only are we powering down our cells occasionally in restaurants and making the "tsk tsk bad parents" noise when someone hands over their cell to shut little Trever up, we are also discovering that some things are just better done the old non-tech way.

Take Kelsey Borresen, the 24-year-old assistant Weddings editor here at the Huffington Post. Kelsey recently made a social media scheduling calendar out of eraser-board and hot pink tape. Now for the record, Kelsey is of the generation born with cell phones in their hands. When we discovered that we are both Jersey girls now living in Los Angeles, I could see her do the mental math; she hadn't yet learned to read at the time I was writing a thrice-weekly newspaper column. Kelsey grew up with technology as part of her life; she likely started pre-school knowing how to capture a screenshot and has a thumb-texting speed worthy of Guinness' record book.

But here's the thing: Her job requires that she schedule around-the-clock hourly Weddings tweets and Facebook updates to run seven days a week -- including weekends, when she is off.

To do this, Kelsey uses multiple software programs -- including an in-house one. Every program has some limitations -- some don't let her add a photo, others are just plain cumbersome and require a zillion drop-down menus -- which is why she has to use multiple programs. And yes, it just gets confusing sometimes. So what she did was create an eraser-board and tape spreadsheet to keep it all straight. She feels more comfortable, she says, when she sees things laid out in black and white, or in this case, black and white highlighted by hot pink. She uses an erasable marker in case she has to move things around. It's easier, she says, than jumping around among the zillion windows she keeps open on her computer screen.

Kelsey also carries a paper planner in her purse. She has multiple devices that would give her access to calendars and her phone is more than happy to send her reminders. But again, she just likes it more when she sees everything all laid out in front of her.

"I like being able to physically check things off, move them around, see it all at once," she says.

When I point out that this is a pretty retro attitude, one that might engender scorn from the tech-addicted, she just shrugs. Her roommate, a graphic designer, wouldn't dream of carrying a paper planner around. Her roommate uses digital yellow-stick'ems as reminders.

For a writer, being able to see how the words will look on the page is part of the writing process. Make that: at least for this writer. Many years ago when I worked for a daily newspaper, the company introduced a new word-processing system on which we were to write our stories. It had one tremendous flaw: The type ran all the way across the screen instead of appearing as it would in the newspaper column. I led the protest based on the fact that as a writer, I needed to "see" what my lead would look like.

I suspect Kelsey has the same sort of brain tick. We just feel better working this way. There may be online tools that could help us, but at this point, online is overwhelming and there is nothing wrong with going a little retro. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Something else happened recently that made me think we might be weaning ourselves off online dependence instead of just yapping about it. I got two hand-written farewell notes from departing colleagues who wanted me to know they appreciated my friendship and mentoring. I love hand-written thank you notes. I especially love them over a group email that says you'll miss everyone and here's your new email address so we can all "stay in touch." Yeah, right. We aren't in touch now and we likely won't be later either.

But a hand-written note is special. It means you took the time to write it because you regard me as special. I appreciate that; I like that. Who wouldn't?

It's the same world of difference as visiting a sick friend in the hospital or choosing to send them a get-well card. The card feels more like you've checked a box off on your to-do list. A visit sends the message to this friend that she's special and important enough for you to make the time to visit her.

For the record, I'm not an online slammer. I think being able to stay in touch with kids in college via texting and Skype has saved many an empty nester from going insane. I think Grandma loves getting photos from your phone, taken and sent in the moment. It's just that sometimes, a simple eraser board and hot pink tape says things more clearly.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Redditers Share How Tech Has Affected Their Lives