I’m not quite there but I’m getting to the point where I can see the pleasures of dropping out—not like in the 1970s, when young people wanted to flee a materialistic society and live simply off the land. That life sounds more appealing now than the virtual one I scramble to keep up with. Long ago (in the time line of the Internet and social media) I got on Facebook, but I sometimes wonder if I should be on Twitter or Instagram in order to keep up with things. Am I missing out by not being more fully engaged with social media?
It’s that “keeping up with things” that I struggle with. As I get older, I want my life to get simpler, while social media complicates it and challenges me with new terminology (meme, troll) and new platforms that I struggle to make sense of. I’m so out of touch with the electronic world that when I first read a long article in the New Yorker several years ago about a new program—I mean, platform—called Twitter, I was skeptical and scornful. Why would anyone want to write in a format where you were limited to 140 characters? Well, our president for one, along with millions of others.
I’m a word person—I like long, flowing sentences and grew up reading books in which I could submerge myself—but the Internet increasingly is dominated by photos, videos and emoticons. If language is used at all, it’s kept to a minimum and abbreviated to within an inch of its life— “ur,” for example. It’s like a coded language, one that I struggle to keep up with and learn, so I don’t become one of those old people who is accused of being out of touch with the world, like Joe Biden using “malarkey.”
My father, when he was in his 80s, had no interest in becoming part of the Internet world—TV and radio provided all the information and entertainment he needed. My mother, five years younger than him, gamely tried going online and she managed to do a bit of email correspondence before her dementia took over. For a while, she played Solitaire on the computer, which never made sense, because you could play the card game alone with real cards. But maybe it was the novel lure of technology that drew her.
The temptations are great: virtual tours of museums, spiritual teachings, breaking news, cute animal videos and photos of my grandnieces on their first day of school. This is where we live now, but I don’t want to lose track of the real world or spend all day staring at a screen. How much of my precious time do I want to spend in an online world that is moving so fast I can hardly keep up? A world aimed at younger people and one that is increasingly leaving me behind. I’m at an age when I feel the need to scale back my world, to simplify and prepare myself for the next stage of life.
Maybe that’s why I envy a friend who is in his early 80s and doesn’t own a computer or a smart phone. His refusal to participate in the online world is starting to cause problems because much of daily life, like paying bills, making reservations or communicating with friends, is being transferred to the Internet. But he feels that owning a computer would complicate his life, which involves being a full-time caregiver. He’s content to discover the world through books, which line his mountain cabin, plus magazines and NPR. Without having to embroil himself in the world of the Internet, he’s managed to slow his life down to his own pace, rather than trying to keep up with its heedlessness.
I can’t go back to the pre-Internet days because I’ve discovered too many online riches, but I can control its use rather than have it control me.