It is 10:45 AM on Saturday, October 20. I am on the 6 train, headed uptown to Grand Central Station. The girl across from me is typing on her iPhone, but mine is turned off in my pocket. Today is my professor-prescribed “day without technology”.
I’ve been planning a trip to my parent’s house in Connecticut for a couple weeks, and it’s happened to line up nicely with this assignment. I’ll be away from my friends all day, so I’ll have no pressing need to call or text them. And I have a pretty busy day of errands planned, so there won’t be a lot of downtime that I’ll be looking to fill. Cakewalk.
The train ride to Fairfield, Connecticut takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. I always like to read on the train, and the cell reception is usually pretty spotty, so not much is different about the ride. I am sitting near, from the sounds of it, a group of female truck-drivers.
“I don’t mind driving us home. I’m a professional driver,” one of them says.
“I used to be a professional driver too,” says another. “Now I’m a professional drinker.”
By pre-arrangement, my parents have left my car in the train station parking lot for me. I turn it on and the radio display tells me that it’s 12:35 PM. The display is digital, but all in all, I think I am faring pretty well.
My first stop is the bank, where I need to deposit a check. I walk past the ATM and wait in line for the teller. It only takes a minute, but the teller gives me a weird look when I tell her what I need. I think it has been a long time since she personally accepted a check from somebody under the age of 65.
It’s a little odd to consider that a whole generation of bank workers has been replaced, in large part, by machines. This, I begin to understand, is the true threat of outsourcing that is facing our country: robots.
I make stops at the optometrist and eyeglass store without incident. I do unconsciously look at my phone a few times before I realize what I’m doing.
Often, in high school, my mom would call me when I was out during the day and ask me to run some errand for her- to stop at the drugstore or to buy a few groceries. Today, she cannot do this. This is one of the day’s minor successes.
In large part, I’ve come home to see my sister. She’s in graduate school in Pittsburgh, and as a result we don’t get to see each other much. We sit in our kitchen and talk for a while. She tells me that she’s taken a video of her dog, and she assures me that it’s hilarious. She starts to pull out her computer to show me.
I tell her that I can’t watch it, and explain my assignment.
“Sounds like a pretty stupid assignment,” she says.
I ask whether she’s considered the danger that robots pose to the American economy.
7:30 PM. My family eats a technology free dinner.
My sister calls one of her high school friends who still lives in town. He comes over. I am extremely grateful that this has come up: nighttime is the part I was most worried about.
We drink my parents’ alcohol and listen to music. My sister and her friend want to watch a movie, but I am resolute in my journalistic integrity and say we should not.
They watch the movie without me.
I read for a little while, and then try to make myself fall asleep. This last part is admittedly pretty boring.
It is now Sunday, the 21st. All in all, things have gone pretty smoothly.
I recognize that I’ve benefited from unusual circumstances. Had I been in New York, needed to meet someone somewhere, or not had so much catching up to do with my sister, the day would almost certainly have been harder.
But did I feel a compulsion, some kind of emotional attachment to the missing digital world? I can’t say that I did. Losing technology made the day less convenient, not somehow less vital. Anyway, the argument that the Internet somehow defines my generation has never held water with me. We use it as a tool to do the same thing that every other generation has done before us: to work, to socialize, and to be entertained. Things are different now, to be sure, and changing very quickly. But people, I think, are basically the same.
Except for the robots, which aren’t people at all. Maybe we should be looking into that.