My parents sent me several things for my birthday this past Saturday: a vomit-green sweater from Urban Outfitters, a link to the Mona Lisa wishing me a day full of smiles, a book I had left at home over Winter Break and a delightful card. The card was a classy touch, so I was surprised when my father asked me on the phone if I was interested in “one of those BlackBerry things” as another birthday present. “They send e-mails, right?” he asked. “Do students at Yale use these things?”
Like an exterior source of dopamine, new technology is usually unable to enter my parents’ brains. It took me the majority of my middle school years to convince my parents to buy a DVD player. “I just don’t see the use,” my parents would say to my angst-ridden frustration. Didn’t they understand that this was an essential life commodity? Couldn’t they see the potential joys of a clearer picture, the unspeakable wonders of special features, the hilarity of watching a bad movie dubbed in French? When they finally relented, my parents agreed, to my smug satisfaction, that the quality was much better, latching onto the word “clarity” to describe the experience. “Check out the clarity on this DVD,” my father would remark to my brother. “What clarity!” my mother would exclaim as she passed by. “The clarity’s top-notch,” my father would explain to friends on the phone.
It’s not as though my parents haven’t been trying. In the past year I’ve received several text messages from both of them. Though the content is usually a variation on the theme “call us back already,” the texts, with their unnecessary greetings, subject headings, and word repetitions, are fun and refreshing. And we finally video-chatted last week, a first since I’ve been at college.
“This is so cool,” my dad said, his tiny head resting comfortably in the bottom left corner of the screen.
“Turn on a light that is facing in your direction so I can see your faces,” I asked slowly.
“WE can see YOUR face!” my mother exclaimed. “And with such clarity!”
I decided that I shouldn’t get a BlackBerry without first considering an iPhone, so I tried to differentiate the two Internet-access capable phones. iPhones don’t have buttons, and I have always loved the film “Minority Report,” in which Chief John Anderton’s computer doesn’t have buttons. And even if there isn’t an iPhone application that allows me to prevent murders, there’s always the one where I can play a digital kazoo. On the other hand, BlackBerrys have the BBM feature, a free instant text service that is essentially like portable, never-ending instant messaging. My seventh grade self’s greatest dream could finally be achieved. I did more research at dinner last night.
“Get an iPhone,” my friend Will Stephen told me.
“Can I quote you on that with your full name?” I asked. “No,” he responded.
To be honest, the thought of my e-mails always knowing where I am scares me. I need to be away from my digital life for a certain amount of time every day, and I enjoy the feeling of returning to my room after several hours and having dozens of new e-mails. Though most of them are spam (A cappella jam in the subject line? Straight to the trash you go!), I still feel important when I see my inbox bursting at the digital seams. What’s more scary than this digital panopticon, however, is the realization that some aspect of new technology is unsettling to me. Am I turning into my parents? I had a vision of my own son, someday writing a column making fun of me for not understanding technology. “I’ll buy YOU an iBrain,” I’ll tell young Barack, “But I simply do not feel comfortable replacing a portion of my own hippocampus with an iPod.” He will laugh at my discomfort, and I’ll sternly remind him that he is not to be seen with that cylon girl next door again. By then, it will be too late: The human-like robot will have already captured his heart, and I will be left a stubborn old man.
But for the time being, I’ve decided to wait on my decision. I like my cell phone, and I’ll adapt when I’m ready. Although the main reason I’m waiting is because I need more time to research the options. If only there was a way to do that on the go.