The New Slavery

I reigned in my addictions to food and alcohol. I brought the compulsive spending down to a dull roar. But the Android. The Laptop. Technology is a new addiction and I’m a slave.

Mood music:

In some respects, it’s strange that this is now my lot in life. For most of my adulthood, I was never an early adopter of the latest gadgetry. I didn’t own an iPod until late 2008, and it’s one of the older models. I was still using a Walkman and cassette tapes long after everyone started switching to digital music.

And yet here I am, skilled to the gills in the ways of smartphones, social networking and squeezing Internet connectivity out of the most remote places.

How did this happen? The easy answer is my job.

I write about technology — information security, specifically — and I have to use all this stuff to know how it works and, obviously, how to write about it.

But to blame it all on the hazards of work would be an over-simplification and a cop-out.

The bigger truth is that the same hole in my soul that led me to the other addictions has wrapped its thorny fingers around technology.

I don’t regret it the way I regretted the binge eating and the alcohol I used as a crutch while bringing the food under control. The fact of life is that a lot of good reading has shifted online. That’s now where I go to read various newspapers, get the weather report and watch the news.

We used to turn on the TV to get the weather and watch the news. A favorite Sunday pastime used to be reading a stack of newspapers on the living room couch. It was a way to be informed and unwind at the same time.

Now I can do all these things from my laptop AND my Android phone. But to the passers by, I have my face buried behind a screen while the world hums along around me.

There’s definitely a perception issue. But I won’t lie. A lot of my computer use is obsessive, compulsive and addictive.

Imagine how easy it is to spend hours on porn sites in the middle of the night. Fortunately, porn isn’t my thing. I know a priest who suffers from that addiction, and I pray for him all the time. But I know a thrice-convicted pedophile who, last time I checked, was visiting the library Internet centers and looking at all that stuff while friending teenage girls all over Facebook.

Ah, yes. Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I can never let a day go by without seeing who is doing what on there. The funny thing is that most of what happens on there is the stuff we always got along without. We’ve always been busy enough with our own family dramas. Now we have to read about everyone else’s. Wanna punish someone for annoying you? Nothing says “Fuck You” like unfriending someone on Facebook or unfollowing someone on Twitter.

The whole addiction-to-technology thing came up a couple Saturdays ago while I was in Washington D.C. having breakfast with my friends James Arlen and Martin Fisher. Martin was recording the conversation for a podcast but somewhere in the conversation we veered away from security and started lamenting our dependence on our devices. I was lamenting, anyway.

James said something I hadn’t thought of before: Our phones and social networking tools have become like another sense. So instead of five senses, we now have six.

Make a person do without their phone or laptop and it’s like you’ve cut off an arm or deprived them of smell, hearing, taste or vision.

What’s so perfect about that description is that addictions in general are like that. The addiction becomes another sense of sorts. Deprive the addict of what they need and horrible withdrawal pains result. I experienced it when I put down flour, sugar and alcohol. And I experience it when I have to shut the phone. 

I guess the reason I’m not more ashamed about it is that practically every person I know has the same problem.

Misery adores company. There’s nothing more comforting than the knowledge that you’re not alone in your stupidity.

So what do I do with this newfound clarity?

I don’t know.

A good place to start is to minimize my laptop use when I’m home. But I have a feeling I’ll fall short.

Meet the new slavery. Not quite the same as the old slavery, but still a bitch.

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8 thoughts on “The New Slavery

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  6. Good post, and good looking in the mirror. One comment:

    “Now I can do all these things from my laptop AND my Android phone. But to the passers by, I have my face buried behind a screen while the world hums along around me…There’s definitely a perception issue.”

    It’s not a perception issue. If you’ve got your head buried in a paper, eyes glued to a TV, or eyes glued to another screen, catching up on news and friends’ activities, you are ignoring the world around you. That’s OK sometimes, and it’s not OK at other times or when it’s constant. Which you say. But it’s not a mis-perception, it’s reality. If you’re paying attention to paper or screen, you’re not paying attention to other people in the room. Period. The question is: when and where is it appropriate, and when is it not?

    If you’re working, that’s fine. If you’re spending some downtime reading, watching TV, or doing something on the computer, that’s fine…within reason. If you can’t talk to a friend in the same room with you without using the computer or checking the smartphone, that’s not OK. It’s rude and it deteriorates social skills quickly. We forget how to engage and how to treat others as someone deserving of attention.

    And that doesn’t go just for addicts; it goes for everyone. We are becoming increasingly rude as a society, checking phones while talking to someone else, surfing the web while visiting with someone, and so on. I’m amazed at how much the new law against texting while driving has helped me. I don’t text, and I think twice or thrice before making a call. As a result, I’m driving better and I’m pulling away from the text vortex just a little bit. It’s a refreshing break.

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  8. Sometimes I lament the fact that you are a journalist primarily and an everything else secondarily. You are so accustomed to your role as dispassionate observer, you don’t contribute to the thick of it… This is a brilliant take on an aspect of extended sense that I hadn’t thought of… And now can’t atop thinking about.

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