I can feel it again. The restlessness, like an itch waiting to be scratched. I shift in stance, my weight moving unevenly from one leg to the next. My hands are in and out of my pockets. The signs and symptoms are all there. I need a fix. I reach into my left front pants pocket and pull out my ipod touch. God I hope there is a wi-fi signal here. Yes! I quickly check my email, nothing new there, move on to make sure my RSS reader is up to date and see if anything interesting has popped up there, and then it’s on to Twitter, where I can let the endless stream of data wash all over me.
I’m waiting in line at the store, at a stop light, wherever. There’s a few seconds to kill. Maybe I’ll play some Angry Birds, never mind that there is hardly even time for me to begin a game before this brief pause in my day is done. Just touching the icon, watching the game load, perhaps even getting a chance to fling a bird or two before the light changes, this will be enough to fill the blank space in time with something.
Mary and I are at a restaurant, breakfast of course. She gets up to go to the restroom. This ought to give me a few minutes. Sure I could try and start a conversation with the guy sitting by himself at the table next door, or walk around and check out some of the art on the wall. Nah, there’s got to be something better happening somewhere else. I reach for the device that has been sitting there on the table, beckoning me, taunting me to pick it up while I was desperately trying to be engaged in the conversation and not wondering if anyone had commented on my last status update. Check the settings. Damn, no signal here. If only this were an iphone, I wouldn’t have this problem. Plants Vs. Zombies? No, the waitress is kind of cute and though I am happily married, I’d be embarrassed if she saw me doing something as adolescent as playing a video game. I can check my calendar and To Do list, now that’s something important and useful. Maybe I’ll work on a new system to organize my To Do’s so that I can To Do them better! Yes, that will get my fix, moving To Do’s around, re-categorizing them, and tagging them. It’s almost as good as slaying zombies with daffodils.
When I was younger, I was a cigarette smoker, and I loved it. When I quit, it was like saying goodbye to a lover, one whom I had shared some of the best times in my life with, but with whom I knew I would be better off without. Nicotine was a time filler, a way to deal with nervous energy and social anxiety, and a way to connect with people. I had many a good conversation after bumming or giving out a smoke. It was what I reached for when I didn’t know what else to do.
Data now seems to serve the same function in my life and that of so many others. Now that we have cell phone coverage and wifi blanketing so much of the earth, data can always be with you. Just like a pack of cigarettes. Data is the new nicotine.