The Modern Normal

A few months ago, I came to read two books back to back that led me to reexamine life and technology’s role in it.

During this time, in peak-quarantine, “normal” life turned upside down for everyone . The conventional wisdom was – and perhaps still is – that we’re all so very lucky to be living in a time when technology lets us connect, access information immediately and entertain ourselves to our heart’s content. Life could carry on as normal – that is, if by “normal” we mean the “normal” that we constructed these last ten years.

Two books that got me thinking about our relationship to technology: Modern Life Etiquette by Gabriela Meyer and Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

The first book I read was written by my first boss and dear friend, Gabriela Meyer, on a new set of etiquette rules to navigate our modern and ever-changing life. In one of the first chapters, Gabriela writes about how, per etiquette rules, it’s considered widely inappropriate to pull out your phone and place it next to you on a table, when you’re out with friends. I thought about how “normal” that behavior was for me and everyone in my life, and how “abnormal” it was at the same time. How did we get here?

The second book I read was my first fiction book in a very long time. My best friend Dina had gifted me a set of books for my birthday, and we read them together at the same time. I started reading my first Murakami, “Sputnik Sweetheart”, and immediately gave in to a feeling all too sweet to humans: nostalgia. I say all too sweet, because the moving force of nostalgia has been covered by pop culture extensively. South Park talked about it through their ‘Member Berries’ plot line and Donald Trump won a presidential election on the nostalgic ‘Make America Great Again” slogan.

In “Sputnik Sweetheart”, the protagonist Sumire doesn’t even own a phone. Every time she needs to call, she goes to the nearest telephone booth and calls from there. The book was published in 1999, so I presume it’s set around that time as well. At no point in the book does Murakami describe Sumire as someone that “watches the news on TV all day” or that “browses the internet all evening”. What kind of a boring life book would that be? I felt nostalgic for Sumire’s reality.

Today’s “normal” life, drowned to the brim in technology, was not always normal. I don’t think anyone in their right might would read a book about a character that lives their life like we do today: spending most of our time in front of a screen. Why then do we live like that? I realized then that if I were a book character, I’d be a girl that grabs her phone the minute she wakes up and spends hours mindlessly browsing the internet, reading through news and Reddit. Ew.

This led me to the ultimate realization that I think we all eventually come to as we grow up: my mom was right all along! 🌺 She’d always tell me to stop starring at my phone all day, but I think I needed to come to this conclusion on my own. I am trying to slip away from technology’s tight and convenient grip and enjoy more things in the real, offline world. That’s how this blog came to be.

I’m not the only one to have had an ‘awakening’ like this, as I’ve talked to a lot of people who are just as disenfranchised by our current reality as I am. If you’ve had a similar epiphany, I’d love to hear about what triggered it – and how you’re reclaiming your life.

Thank you for reading!