Tucked in a back corner of my closet, nestled in its box, is a ring. It’s dusty, neglected. I wish I could put it to good use but I don’t quite have the skills. I’m holding out that maybe I’ll figure it out some day and be able to hack it.
It’s accompanied by a similar bracelet, a later model with step counting technology. Yea, this isn’t a story of a lover scorned. The object of my adoration was my phone, and our love language my notifications.
The company was Ringly, they made “smart jewelry” with a subtle customizable light, programmable vibrations, and later a step counter. You could set a color and vibration pattern for different people, apps, or events on your phone.
Today, I would have a field day doing a tear-down on their marketing. Billed as a way to be more present, but without your phone in hand or on the table, your ring or bracelet would let you know when you needed to tune back in! Yea, nothing helps you unplug like strapping your notifications to your hand.
Of course, much of that was depending on how you set up your notifications. I remember an ill fated meeting when I first got my ring, I linked too many apps and a storm of notifications came in while seated in the conference room. The vibration wasn’t noticeable, but the multicolored light that subtly flashed on the side raised a few eyebrows.
I think this adventure with smart jewelry was an early symptom of a desire for a life less connected. Eventually, the ring was relegated to my work phone (the second phone!) so I could bring #2 along and not need to check it when I was on call. There are few circles of hell quite like being on-call nights and weekends for social media for a fortune-500 company btw. It feels like a distant past life to consider having not just one iPhone, but two, and to be tethered to work so fully on the weekend I couldn’t leave home without it.
It’s no surprise I burned out. And it’s not even that surprising that I found myself needing to leave smartphones behind to find a life well lived. Smartphones, social media, smart devices, the IoT. Are these the tools we need to live our best life? I see people tapping out texts on their watches or shouting at their wrists and can’t help wondering if this is the techno-utopian future we thought we were signing up for.
Admittedly, all things internet helps if you want to look like you’re living your best life, on Instagram. Jury is still out on if that is anyone’s definition of a life well lived. I can’t seem to find proof that living life filtered through a 4 inch rectangle was any better than days spent gazing at the natural world around me.
I heard an argument recently that finding a way to engage in social media was a necessary part of today’s society. That you needed to figure out a way to do it to thrive. They argued you could curate whatever ecosystem you wanted, follow only the most positive things.
Except…you’re still not driving. Follow all the conscious boss babe content you want and your ads and selected posts are still at the mercy of an algorithm with it’s sights set on keeping you online, engaged in the app, and peeping ads. Is 3 hours doom-scrolling before bed a life well lived? Is reading a book, talking deeply with your partner, and getting a good night’s sleep any better? Who decides?
Maye if you’re anxious, burning out, or all bound up by the work you do it’s not a sign that you are sensitive or broken, but a sign that everything else is broken. That a world that makes you live like that is well off-center. If you want to do something great with your life but keep finding yourself losing hours to a platform you feel compelled to stay on for FOMO reasons, what then.
I love this new term, the Great Resignation. Proper noun and all! Few go through a major traumatic event without reassessing their life and the playbook they’re running on. (to name a few: hi Covid, meet climate change, oh and your friend overlapping natural disaster is already here…head on in!). I am all in for everyone quitting jobs where they aren’t treated well. I’m holding out for the Great Unplugging. The Great Deactivation. The Great Dumb-Phoning. (Still workshopping that last one but you got me, yea?)
I wonder what it will take to bring others along to a life that is digital, but more mindfully so.
For me, it started with losing my dad to brain cancer. it continued with a major disillusionment with corporate life. It accelerated with working in the “always on” world of marketing, social media, and freelancing. It ended when my late model iPhone crapped out and I couldn’t get excited about a new one. Free to choose something else (Light Phone, I love you). Free to delete my social media. Free to interact with people without the interface of a screen (harder than you’d think for endless reasons, both external and internal).
It makes me wonder, do you really have to hit rock bottom to stop something that isn’t serving you? Perhaps there’s value in just saying “enough” and trying the thing that scares you.
I think those Ringly are collecting dust in my closet because I hope I could use them for something, someday. They’re not that hard to hack with bluetooth if you have the skills. Could I make it my garage door opener, my idk…what do I even want that connected?
It’s a funny relic, these things that I can’t yet part with. It’s destined for the landfill, smart jewelry from a startup that couldn’t make it work. Costume jewelry with an extra edge, but one that’s been dulled by the hands of time. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to put them to use, or maybe they’ll just serve to remind me that constant connection isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.