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Some 21st century Americans embrace a life without gadgets

June 10, 2007|Joann Klimkiewicz | Hartford Courant

'"No cellphones. No cable. No nothing," says the raspy-voiced Edward Orlowski, 81, of Ellington, Conn. "Oh, I have a radio. Let's see. What else? My sons bought me a color TV a couple of years ago. My son once bought me a -- what do you call that thing -- an air conditioner? Haven't used it, though."

Orlowski figures he made it through the Depression, through his military service in World War II and Korea, through some other things life threw his way, without the help of any gadgets or gizmos. "When you go through those things, you know what you need and what you can do without."

A widower and father of five, Orlowski finally relented when his son insisted he get a cellphone in case of emergency. He fiddled with it for a week. "Then I got realistic. After all these years, why do I need a cellphone?" says Orlowski, retired from "retailing and a few oddball jobs."

He sees the usefulness of some devices -- even the cellphone he gave up on. "But most of the high technology, like super computers, I think are mostly hindrances," says Orlowski. "If something goes wrong, if you push a wrong button, it takes two years to figure out how to fix it. Me? I'd prefer going back to the horse and buggy if I had a choice."

Two days later, the phone rings, and a familiar voice is on the other end.

"Hello, this is Ed Orlowski. I talked to you the other day about all this technology?" He explains he's been out and about, away from his phone for long stretches.

"I just wanted to make sure you weren't trying to reach me," he says. "I don't have one of those answering machines, you know?"

Shuns digital distractions

Joe Mirsky, 21, is a Middletown native and a senior at Marlboro College in Vermont.

"I'm really the only person I know, five years above or below me, who has never had a cellphone," says Mirsky, at home on a school break and working at It's Only Natural restaurant in Middletown.

Mirsky doesn't have an iPod, doesn't have cable and has never watched much television. He has a laptop -- a high school graduation gift from his boss at the restaurant, and an essential for today's college student.

His choosing to eschew digital distractions might make him an oddity among his age group, but he fits right in at his Vermont campus, where simplicity reins.

"Up at school, it's like 300 of us on 400 acres. We're all ivory-tower idealists, to a certain extent," says Mirsky, entering his final semester at Marlboro, where he studies Buddhism and psychology. "What grounds us, though, is an emphasis on personal interaction. You don't just call someone on their cellphones or just watch news reports on TV. You have to go out there and find the information yourself. And, boy, that's something my generation has forgotten how to do: actively pursue information instead of letting it diffuse over them."

But his gadget-less life is as much a financial decision as a philosophical one: "I've never really been in a household affluent enough to afford the latest technologies. So I'm sure some of this is overcompensation. ... I draw my lines hard and fast where money should and shouldn't go. And iPods and cellphones are at the top of the list."

He says it's easy for these things to take over a person's life, time eaten up sorting through iTunes playlists or texting on cellphones. Whatever happened to sitting quietly with your own thoughts?

"There are times that are meant to be transition times. And if I'm walking down the street, I don't need to be talking to someone unless they're right there with me. Who needs all that multitasking?"

Facebook and MySpace, the popular social networking sites? "It had so much potential, but it's just turned into girls trying to show how hot they are. It all becomes so one-dimensional and so material and about creating your alter-Internet self."

Mirsky prefers to break away from the Internet bubble and sit outside reading a book. But he also can see how a person typing away on a social networking site might think Mirsky is the one living in a bubble. In fact, when students at his college considered a cellphone ban on campus, he vehemently opposed it.

"It's all about moderation. I'm not going to get up on a soapbox. I think technology does great things and cellphones do great things," he says. "I just think there's a big, beautiful world out there that isn't pixilated. And it's really easy to lose site of that if you've got your ear on a cellphone or you're glued to the TV."

'Not missing out at all'

Linda Stevenson, 57, is a baker and cake decorator from Hebron, Conn.

"I'm just one of the nuts. I want no part of it. None. No part of the VCR, no part of using my cellphone," says Stevenson, giggling at the absurdity of it all. "I don't even have cable. We get five stations: 3, 8, 30, 61 sometimes and 24. That's it. I get nervous about using the computer. I don't even know how to turn it on."

And guess what her husband does.

"He's a systems analyst," she says, laughing.

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