Until I went off to college, most of my communication happened face-to-face when it happened at all. I was a quiet kid, afraid of the telephone, uncomfortable talking with all but a handful of adults: my father, my mother, her best friends, her mother, our caretaker, and Millie, the alcoholic who managed our neighbor's horse barn.
Instant messaging, chat rooms, myspace--these were tailor-made for the quiet kids, but I didn't have a computer. I would sit on the edge of my friend Abby's frilly bed and offer encouraging stabs as to the subtext of "just chillin wit Josh wat u up2?"
Sometimes, Abby would message boys on my behalf, and the moments before they responded were thrilling--you could see them spinning the wheel of hotness, deciding where I landed.
But for the most part, I thought AIM was boring and everyone's screen names were dumb, to say nothing of the trite Jack Johnson lyrics used to pimp out their away messages.
I wish I could say I carried the Thoreauxian norms of my childhood into adulthood, but it turned out I was just a late bloomer. In college I spent hours a day on Facebook, agonizing over which French novels to list under the books section of my profile, what degree of coquetry was appropriate for a post left on a wall that did not belong to my boyfriend. To my boyfriend, I sent enough text messages for ten Tao Lin novels, and used up by allotted minutes so quickly and so frequently that my mother soon gave in, switched me to an unlimited plan.
From ignorance to dependence to fear. After graduation, my daily computer time went from around 4 hours to upwards of 12. I was working as a digital strategist and supplementing that with freelance writing, and I still had food blogs to ogle, Facebook to check. At first, my only worry was that all this screen time would be bad for my health. On a long B-train ride back to my apartment, a young mother's pleas for help fell on literally, if temporarily, deaf ears. I began to fear for our brains, our instincts.
From fear to contempt. I used to read a lot of product/gadget blogs, and now I don't anymore. They all said the same things with different proper nouns. So many keystrokes were devoted to iPhone design rumors, to launches of games, to canned tutorials on how to live your life better, thanks to these apps.
A month ago, my phone broke. I went nearly two weeks without replacing it. I was constantly aware of not having it, but I liked it. I liked being forced to pay attention to my surroundings. I pet my dog more. I imagined lives for people I saw on the street. I listened to a saxophone streaming out of the jazz flophouse that abuts Fort Greene Park and felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie.
Most of all I liked what not having a phone said about me.
In the end, though, I replaced it. I'd like to say I use it less; certainly I don't have as many apps. But basically, right now I'm in the "nothing's changed but for a thin veneer of distaste" camp.
The goal of Typing through Tin Cans is to suss out our camps, to explain them, to embrace or fret over them (as I've done). Each of the writers in this inaugural issue sits in a different camp, though some are more similar than others. Read them, and, if you have a chance, let me know your own.