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The lure of high-tech fishing

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Esther Cepeda
June 11, 2012
— It's been a while since I wrote a column bemoaning the role that electronic gadgets play in distracting, dumbing down and otherwise diminishing the cordial and intellectual fabric of our society. Up until a few days ago, this would have been the lead-in to another such broadside.

I'm always ready to lament the toll that smartphones, tablets and laptops take on our minds, our relationships and our bodies. Not because I pine for the days when men on horseback delivered the mail but because I'm one of the 52 percent of Americans 18 and older who, according to a Poll Position Survey conducted last November, report spending four to nine hours a day using electronic devices to watch TV, view video, text or interact on social media.


Though I use social media and texting for work, that much time isn't optimal -- hey, at least I'm not part of the 12 percent who say they spend 10 hours or more looking at their electronic tools -- and I really worry what easy access to 24-hour-a-day streams of entertainment and electronic human contact might do to us, even though I admit it can sometimes be truly enriching.


For instance, the Pew Internet and American Life Project recently reported that, as of April, 53 percent of American adults age 65 and older use the Internet or email. As of February, one-third of that same group used social networking sites such as Facebook, and an unprecedented number, 69 percent, say they own a cellphone. This is wonderful for a growing community of people who are sometimes left out because they're disconnected from friends and family.


But as great as this news is, other trends and indicators have me disturbed about electronic overload and this is what I had been focused on until last Friday, when I decided to take a break from my desktop computer, laptop, iPad and smartphone to take my youngest son on an adventure I'd never before attempted: fishing.


I grew up a latch-key kid in the heart of Chicago and, until a few days ago, had never handled a fishing pole, much less willingly bought worms and touched them. But maternal duty and a quick swing through a discount store for a pole, some sunglasses and a small tub of bait saw me to the edge of a local lake. Luckily the instruction manual was clear -- except for directions on how to attach the red and white bobber to the fishing line.


So there I was, on a dock surrounded only by ducks, snapping fish and an 11-year-old boy who still thinks I'm one of the smartest people on earth, thought I'm completely flummoxed by a round ball of plastic from China.


In the end I my fetched my iPhone from the car and let a one-second Google search save our day: I pushed the top, got the clip out, attached the bobber and the bait -- and caught a fish.


So consider this my rare salute of gratitude to our favorite 21st-century vice. For all the pitfalls of our overly connected culture, it isn't always bad. Our beeping, pinging gadgets can actually enable joy -- sometimes simply by making a picture-perfect moment possible.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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