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Why Multiple Sclerosis Makes Me 'Old School' When It Comes to Technology

The other week, I went to get my haircut. I arrived a few minutes early so I walked over to the waiting area and took a seat.  There were five other people sitting there, too… and all of them were on their phone.

Nobody looked up, said “hi” or even gave a head nod in my general direction. As I sat there, another person approached. Before he even reached our area, his phone was out as he texted away. Eventually he stumbled into his seat. Six people within 10 feet of each other, but it was like each of us was on a different planet.

I’m not the “Get off my lawn!” guy. I love technology and yes, I have a phone of my own that I use quite frequently.

Communicating with family and friends, taking pictures, checking the news or sports scores – I do it all.

At our children’s events, I’m excited as the next parent to capture special memories. 

I find myself having an internal struggle though over how much is too much? When is that line crossed and I’m no longer enjoying that sunset or my child singing in a play and I just become somebody behind a lens taking pictures?

Similarly, when is the line crossed where, as a society, we are more concerned about the latest alert on our phone that we don’t hear the question our child just asked, a joke from our spouse, or even bother to smile or nod at the person sitting next to you?

This isn’t about me staking out some higher ground, it’s just an observation because, to me, every moment matters.

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 31 had a profound impact on me. I’m not going to pat myself on the back and say I went through a sudden maturation process but it did open my eyes to the beauty of appreciating life, because it can literally change in an instant.

Social media has ushered in a sharing society. Pictures of our latest meal, stories about a trivial moment in our day or random musings limited by characters and anchored on a symbol which represented something entirely different just a decade ago. I’m talking about you, pound sign!

There is much to admire about this new age: reconnecting with old friends, staying in touch with distant relatives and creating bonds with someone online… because both of you have tried the same recipe, laughed at the same meme or perhaps live with the same chronic disease.

But, within this online revolution, I fear we’ve lost the desire to connect with others in person

In 2016, it’s a friendly face at a grocery store, shopping mall or bar that we don’t bother to converse with – will the next generation be unable to even tell stories or joke with their kids without using an electronic device?

On December 20, 2016, I turn 40 years old. As I remind my wife just about every other day, I was a Bicentennial baby — I even have the commemorative drinkware to prove it.

In 1976, there were no smartphones. People said hello to the person sitting next to them and maybe even struck up a genial conversation about their day, the weather or where their families were from. 

Or they just took a pause for self-reflection…and lost themselves in that moment. Perhaps they listened to the laughter of their children, the dog bark or just watched the beauty of a tree blowing in the wind.

I never put together a list of the things I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40, but I do have worries as I turn another year older – what health challenges might I face tomorrow or into the future? MS is my constant reminder of how precious life is.

Maybe my health will be stable for the next 40 years, but whether it is or not, I know that I want to squeeze as much out of every second as I can.

Living with MS can be lonely. It’s almost as if I’m on a deserted island, unable to connect with the people closest to me. Can they understand the constant tingling, shooting pains, vertigo or intense fatigue? 

My vision may grow cloudy again tomorrow, preventing me from seeing my beautiful children. My left foot might decide to stop listening to my brain again and drag behind me as I struggle to walk.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so sensitive to this growing electronic dissonance.

If I’m out with family or friends, I resist the urge to pull my phone, answer calls or respond to any texts.  I want to be present because I know those moments can be fleeting. I prefer to joke and talk, not swipe and tag.

And if I’m alone, I smile at the person next to me or even say hello. I hope my smiles help brighten their day as much as theirs do for me.

Maybe that makes me old school? And if it does, is that so bad?

So it hit me the other day, I do have one item on my to-do list before I turn 40: I propose that, going forward, December 20 be Kickin it Old School Day

This isn’t about abandoning technology for 24 hours; it’s about taking time to truly appreciate the beauty of community, friendship, family and love. Or just get lost in your thoughts, with no app required.

Live a little like its 1976. I hope you try it out — that’s the best birthday present I could ask for.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images