- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

I sometimes wonder when the marvels of technology cease to be a boon and become a nuisance. Or even a hazard.

The other day I read of a young woman who was pulling out of her driveway. An ambulance was traveling at a high speed down the road with its siren on and lights flashing. It hit her car and killed her. She hadn’t seen it presumably because lights are not terribly visible on sunny days, and she hadn’t heard the siren because she was using her IPod.

Usually the results are less grim. Still, we have all seen cars wobbling across the center line of the road as drivers fumble with cell phones. Then there is the familiar if ridiculous scene in which a cell phone rings in a restaurant and nine persons reach in their pockets before sheepishly realizing that it was someone else’s phone.

Maybe it’s just me, but it is possible to feel trapped by the demands of highly advanced, splendidly engineered, brilliantly miniaturized forms of unwanted communication. The prevailing philosophy seems to be that if something is possible, it must be desirable. So I’m enjoying a quiet dinner with my wife in a restaurant and my wretched phone goes off. It’s my friend Jack telling me that he closed on a new car. Fine. I’m happy for him. But I don’t want to hear about it over garlic shrimp.

But once important people — editors and bosses and such — find out that you have a cell phone, you can’t turn it off. They expect to be able to reach you.

My daughter Anne, a musician, has solved the problem by becoming an unabashed, selective Luddite. She doesn’t have a cell phone, BlackBerry, e-mail, computer or an IPod. Her refusal to have these things is not because of philosophy; she is not a sort of electronic vegetarian.

She’s all for technology when it makes her life easier, as in the recording studio. When it’s a nuisance, she ignores it.

“How do you live without e-mail?” people ask.

“I don’t have it and I’m alive,” she says, inarguably.

“Why don’t you get a cell phone?”

“I don’t like them,” she responds with formidable simplicity. Her life is much quieter, she says, and she hasn’t suffered terrible consequences.

Consider how much time people spend, not in using technology, but in grooming it.

You buy an IPod. Wonderful gadget, good sound, nice design.

But you have to learn the ITunes software, make playlists, transfer music. You want to design a Web site, so you get Dreamweaver. It’s lovely software, but complex, and you have to learn it.

You want to know what time it is, so you buy a digital watch. It has 37 functions of which you want three. You lose the tiny manual. It somehow starts sounding an alarm every hour. You can’t make it stop.

Anne would take a hammer to it and get something terribly unsophisticated. Time and date.

How much time do people spend maintaining their computers compared with using them? I mean, updating this, downloading that. …

Maybe Anne is on to something. A lot of technology is genuinely beneficial. If you are a graphics pro, Photoshop is not optional. But there is such a thing as becoming a slave to it.

“Why don’t you have a cell phone?”

“I don’t like them.”

It seems to answer the question.

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