About Karen Martha

I am a searcher and not always sure about what I’m looking for. I’ve lived in thirty-nine houses in four states and changed my name five times. One would think I embrace change, yet I find it discombobulating. My unrest is part of what inspires this blog on retirement. It’s like a last chance to live reflectively, instead of wandering helter-skelter into whatever shows up to keep me occupied. I’m interested in the soul work that presents itself at various times in our lives and in how that changes us. In past lives I taught middle school math and science, raised two children and helped with four grandchildren, finished four degrees, worked as a professor and researcher, and married three times—whew. In my present, retired life, I’m tutoring 4th graders, learning rosemaling, and when I’m not working out—writing—writing about this wonderful, often painful, and fascinating journey.

A Cabin In My Life

I consider myself reasonably tech savvy. I had a smart phone before my kids did—a Palm Pilot. I still remember my son saying, “There’s nothing we can give mom for Xmas that will make her as happy as that Palm Pilot has.”  And how right he was! I loved my Palm and my heart was broken when it was replaced with the androids and iphones. 

I’m the grandma who hides her phone under the table when my grandchildren are told, “No phones at the table.” I lease a car so I can have the latest technology—who wants to drive without it? I prefer texting to a phone call—why waste time on all that chit chat.

Savvy about using technology, I may be, but for the nitty gritty stuff, like malware, I’m not so informed. For starters, I was not aware of how easily it slithers onto your computer when you’re trying to download a video game for your step-grandchildren, unabashedly trying to win their favor but instead wreaking havoc with your files.  I took my laptop to my son, thinking he could fix it. After he clicked a bunch of screens I didn’t know existed (younger people don’t use the mouse; they prefer the keypad), he declared it beyond his scope of expertise. Then I took it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy. That’s when I found out that I had a virus/malware (they are not the same thing)—or my computer had it, and for $149, they could fix it—the catch was that they’d need to keep it three days, until Saturday afternoon.  And for $199 I could get protection. I, who thought protection was something men wore, signed up for the whole shebang.

I went home, immediately bereft, what would I do without my laptop? After a period of mourning, watching Home and Garden TV to distract myself, I decided that I could read a book —which I haven’t completely given up on. And as much as I like technology, I don’t have a Kindle or iPad—I like turning the pages, smelling the ink, or that little hint of mildew on older library books. I read through the afternoon, and then I decided to make a lovely dinner.  After dinner, I cleaned the closet with my tablecloths—decluttering, who needs all those now that my children are grown with children of their own. Then back to reading—I finished When We Were Orphans and started The Dutch House—all on the same day, no dragging out the process over a couple of weeks. 

Thursday was troublesome.  An entire day to entertain myself without a laptop.  Tutoring in the morning and time for a real workout and sauna afterwards—and I wasn’t looking at my watch the entire time, rushing to finish. More reading in the afternoon, and then a cleaning of my desk area—this no laptop stuff had potential.  

On Friday I realized just how much time I spend on email, Facebook, Instagram, karensdescant, news sites, etc., with not much to show for it. My shoulders started to unkink, with the help of the PowerPlate at the gym. Meanwhile, the Geek Squad called to say my computer was ready for pick-up, but with the catch that I’d need to schedule a new time if I wanted it sooner than Saturday.  But there were no new times that fit my schedule, so I’d have to wait for my appointment on Saturday. Gee, too bad, but I realized, I didn’t want to pick it up. I wanted another half day of freedom from my laptop addiction. 

In what felt like borrowed time, I observed that tasks that I delay day after day—like cleaning closets—don’t look so bad when the attraction of mindless roaming is removed. Time also seemed more expansive, and best of all, I rediscovered reading until my eyes give out—like I used to do under the blankets with a flashlight as a kid. I also wonder what would happen if I abandoned the computer for—dare I suggest—over a week—including the phone, which is really a tiny computer.  

Much has been written about declining attention span as we age. Quoting from the literature (as we academics are inclined to do) Subjects over 60 years of age show progressive slowing in processing of complex tasks and a reduced capacity to inhibit irrelevant stimuli (Commodari, Guarnera, 2008), what intrigues me is not so much the slowing—after all, our brains have much to sift through—but the “reduced capacity to inhibit irrelevant stimuli.”  If there was ever anything perfectly designed to generate “irrelevant stimuli” it has to be the computer!

My son has banned TV at his cabin, and his internet is terribly slow. One needs to be quite patient to read email or surf, and patience is not something I equate with technology. The result is that when the family visits, we hike outdoors, play games, listen to his LPs (he is a bit of a Luddite) or read. It’s not uncommon to see every chair or davenport occupied by someone snuggled under a comforter, book in hand. 

So where does that leave me? Definitely respectful of the power that innocent-looking, laptop has over me. Power always suggests to me getting out from under it. Two weeks later after the incident, I am more mindful of monitoring when and how I use my computer and phone. It’s supposed to serve me. . . not me, it.

That said, the first Monday after bringing my heart throb home, I was at my desk, typing on it, checking email, taking a minute to peek at Facebook. . . .  All of which reminded me that I need to keep the cabin in my life.

A person sitting at a desk in front of a computer

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