Unbalanced: The left-in-the-middle

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

At the family gathering, I’d been quizzing my cousins about best choices in smartphones, laptops and other techno-gadgets. But from the grief-stricken look my cousin Bob gave me, you would’ve thought I’d announced I had cancer. “Oh, no,” he said. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those techie types.”

The previous week, my husband had looked at me with complete surprise when I announced my interest in buying a smartphone. This from the man who bought me a Kindle when they were first released.

I am of that in-between generation. Love the feel and look of books; love the immediacy of an e-reader. Really, really love the convenience of a cell phone; really, really don’t love the you-can-interrupt-me-24/7 idea. And oh, don’t get me started on how much I love Google and Facebook and yet still love what is snippily referred to in a blog I read as “old media.”

This generational conundrum takes me back to sixth grade. Are anklets still acceptable? Is playing four-square just for kids now? If I talk to Greg, will someone think he’s my boyfriend? Is he my boyfriend?

The social fallout I face today as an in-betweener isn’t as severe as those middle-school years. If I pull out the wrong cell phone, I won’t hear a mean-girl snicker. If I profess my disdain for Twitter, I won’t be snubbed by my co-workers. And if I confess that I actually like to read an ink-smeared newspaper, I won’t automatically be cast into the den of disregard.

Still, such in-between behavior does have its popularity perils. I’m not a fan of interaction that avoids face-to-face contact, so the folks permanently attached to their smartphones don’t even know I exist.

The multi-taskers using laptops during meetings, ostensibly to take notes on the presentation but instead checking email, Facebook, Twitter, project notes, etc. and etc., make me feel like I’m missing something, much as the whispers of two girls at recess once did.

And yet, there’s my cousin Bob again, who fears I’ve gone over to the dark, take-more-than-three-seconds-and-you’re-wasting-my-time side.

No, a social tumble isn’t the real issue of this techno-challenge. Instead, it’s the stressful scramble to keep up. Thanks to the iPad, my Kindle is almost passé. Choosing a smartphone involves more calculations than an IRS long form. Battery life? Screen size? Cost? Coolness factor?

Even my plan to buy a new laptop hit a snag when yet another cousin suggested I buy a netbook instead. Or was it a notebook?

So here I am, stuck in the middle again. My “old media” stuff is out, my new technology is aging and my budget is straining to keep up. With a nod to a problem-solving method so popular in sixth grade, only one solution seems clear — I have to stop talking to my cousins.

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine.