Stone-Keyed Sober

It seems inevitable now that the coke frenzy that was the Internet bubble would be followed by a sobriety that challenges even the toughest Minnesota recovery clinic for an atmosphere of enforced calm.

For years I felt like the only person in San Francisco who wasn’t in recovery. But now that life here has bottomed out, I can finally recognize my tech addiction for what it was.

Like many junkies, my use was invisible while I was in the middle of it. It was my job, after all, to be plugged in and networked one way or another at every waking hours. It’s not hard to be a junkie when you’re surrounded by pushers.

But once the press-release pelting stopped, and the visual landscape of San Francisco returned, I could see that there was more to life than tech. Billboards, coffee cups and painted taxi cabs no longer scream dot com reminders at me “work damn you, work” every time I leave my computer or a meeting.

While others are leaving town for their recovery and spiritual reflection, mine is occurring naturally.

First, I had a bad case of repetitive stress injury enforceably limit my computer time. Surely, I can’t be the only one whose bubble-bound binges pushed me away from the keyboard and back into the unmediated world of communication. This meant that I went cold turkey on instant messaging. No methadone.

Then the city began to empty out of people. First the carpetbaggers left– the hangers on who used to scam their fixes– then those who could no longer afford what it takes to stay connected. The mass of lay-offs have sent scads of people to third world nations and email after email bouncing back to me. Even if I wanted to use all the time, the numbers just aren’t there to connect with.

Once economic reality settled in, people started to forego their cell phones. Personally, I’m on a tightly controlled number of minutes each month. It’s made much easier by the fact that the general communication urgency has died down. It’s ok if people can’t get a hold of me right this minute.

Even if there wasn’t this newfound patience, I could always tell people: “Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you, but my quadrant was hit by a rolling blackout.” The power shortage and surge in prices have made us all see how expensive info-works are.

Now with the price at the pump promising to reach $3.00 a gallon this summer, I’m walking the streets of San Francisco again. Why deal with automotive technology when you just face parking problems wherever you go? I’m actually hanging out with people, face to face, as it were. And we’re not interrupting conversation with phone calls and Palm Pilot exchanges.

No acronyms. No Blackberry paging. Just pure unmediated contact.

So it’s not as if you have to go away to rehab. San Francisco has been turned, overnight, into a city of sobriety. The temptations are gone. The advertising is gone. The magazines that write about it are folding. The dealers are gone. The old buddies you used to share information with and plug in have skipped town.

I’m pretty much clean now. But the old habits die hard. Even when I’m writing a column with old-fashioned paper and pen, I pause every so often to save.

Ah well, one day at a time.