Sometimes the best way to understand something is just to ask.
My latest column was by far my nosiest. Every sentence was a question about your — yes, your — attitudes toward technology. It was inspired by “The Interrogative Mood,” a novel written entirely in questions that, though I can only read a few pages at a time, leaves me more attuned to all my little decisions and opinions every time I blink and put it down.
The column was an experiment. I wanted to see if asking you questions, rather than always proposing answers, could inspire some of the self awareness that’s missing from so much of our chatter about tech, but I’m more and more convinced is so important to understanding it.
Some of you found the column exhausting, even irritating. I don’t blame you. Questions take work.
But many more of you wrote in to tell me you’d explored perspectives you’d barely noticed, or didn’t know you had.
I asked you to send me the answer to your favorite question, or a question you wished I’d asked.
Below are just a few of your responses…
My favorite question: ‘If I had unlimited access to everything on your phone for two hours, and vice-versa, how well do you think we’d know each other?’ I’ve probably had a conversation over IM that exposes my unedited opinion on every significant person, organization, and event in my adult life — and it’s all available from my phone. You would be able to know everything that has ever scared me. Everything, and everyone, I’ve ever loved or hated. How I talk to people I like, and how I talk to people I don’t like. What I say to convince people to do what I want. Not to mention how I’ve changed over the years. If you knew where to look, you could learn more about me in 2 hours than most people have in the last 10 years. I’m guessing the same would be true for you.”
‘If all our electronic devices were to stop working, forever, tomorrow, would we be OK?’ Eventually, I think. We are nothing if not adaptive. If it came down to smoke-signals, there would always be a better substance to burn and SOMEBODY would figure out a way to get a picture of a cat sent up.”
Does sending my answers to these questions make me a narcissistic Millennial? Why can I resist all those Buzzfeed quizzes, but felt compelled to answer some of these questions? Have you ever watched a rerun of a TV episode from the ’90s, and realized that the plot wouldn’t hold up today because everyone would have a cell phone?”
‘Do you wish you had more Facebook friends of fewer?’ More. I stopped thinking of them as friends a long time ago, and more just an audience. I swear in front of my friends and don’t spend most of my energy trying to impress, inspire, or educate them, but just be me. My friends also don’t *usually* have a permanent memory that I’m held accountable to and can be used against me, either to sell me stuff to indict me.”
The most interesting question I thought was: ‘Do you ever worry that your energy level mirrors your phone’s battery life?’ I never thought about how as the day goes on, not only am I draining by the hour, but so is my phone.”
My favorite questions were ‘Would you believe that just as I wrote this, a woman sitting across from me jumped when her phone rang from her purse — at the library, of all places — and that this is why I always keep my phone on silent, even if it means I miss a call or two? Do you know what I mean by “ghost vibration”?’ This happens to be the question that I related to most, specifically for the fact that I do the exact same things and know full well what a ‘ghost vibration’ is. And I think the fact that ghost vibration as new terminology exists just reflects how deeply we as a society yearn for company without wanting to invest our whole selves into a conversation.”
A favorite question is ‘Do you wish you had fewer Facebook friends or more?’ It’s a bit of a competition/popularity contest isn’t it? And yet I wish I never created an account.”
Re: House of Cards. I’d not worry about you. I did season one in two days. I’m saving season two for some really lousy weather.”
What will we leave for our children Monica? Our grandchildren? What will our children leave for theirs? ‘R U Happy? M I missed? Will U always <3 me?’ Do I passionately hope we all can do much better than that? (Do you think your column might just have inspired me to send a written card to a loved one today? Do you think it will travel via US Mail?)”
My question that you didn’t ask: ‘Are you afraid of not being able to keep up with technology?’ I’m a happily retired university professor, and I live on a subsistence farm. I spend time on devices but not an exorbitant amount.”
Many of the questions you posed made me smile and nod in agreement. My favorite question was probably this one: ‘Is it bad that like any online writer I want you to share it, because that’s one way people count our value these days, and because seeing the Facebook ‘Recommend’ count rise on the right side of the column fills me with a sense of validation I only pretend I don’t need?’ I really appreciated your honesty.”
Do you know what I mean by ‘ghost vibration’?” I get it all the time — it makes me worry there’s a tumor growing in my left leg.”