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No Cell Phone, No Pager, Not Even Call Waiting

I have never felt comfortable with the term "information superhighway." It sounds like a hazardous place, where speed and power take priority over common sense. And most of the traffic on it is whizzing past me as I bump along on the shoulder, waiting for a chance to merge.

Some people think I have committed a huge blunder by not making a better connection with modern technology. I have yet to use a cellular phone. I don't rely on an electronic calendar. I don't carry a pager. My phone answering machine has room for only nine minutes of messages. Call waiting? Forget it. When you're on the wire with me, no one else will intrude on the conversation.

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In the 1970s, some futurists predicted that computers would make the average work day easier and more efficient, thus creating huge blocks of leisure time for everybody to relax and explore new recreational opportunities. That idea would probably get big laugh now if anyone could spare a moment to think about it.

It turns out that working faster and saving time often creates a cycle of unending deadlines that can be met only by people willing to maintain a frantic pace - people who are accessible day or night.

The resulting time crunch also has a compressing effect on communication skills, leading to snap judgments, uninformed opinions, and simplistic analyses. A lot of plugged-in people are happy to offer a gut reaction to just about anything. It is messy, but quick. I, on the other hand, would just as soon wait for the revised, updated, and well-thought-out version.

Speed and complexity do not figure heavily in my daily agenda. My idea of multitasking is running the dishwasher while I take the dog for a walk. I am not inspired by bouncing suggestions around a conference table, and I am not more effective under pressure. Sometimes I need a nap, and sometimes I need fresh air. Often I just need a break. It is not an original idea, but it is where original ideas are formed.

Humans are not living versions of PCs. Loading them up with accessories will not automatically expand their output. I consider my pace to be more akin to the slow, reliable oxen favored by pioneers on the Oregon Trail. You can make the road smoother and the wheels rounder, but I am not going to gallop.

Occasionally I see TV advertisements warning me that by not keeping up with all the new technology, I'm in danger of being left behind. Maybe so, but at least I'll be in a familiar spot, and my friends will know where to reach me.

They may get a busy signal, but if the message is really important, I'm sure they'll call back.

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* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of 'I'm Right Here, Fish Cake,' and 'It Came With the House,' collections of humorous essays. He lives in Portland, Ore.

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