You may think Dorothy Beach and Dan Lawrence don’t know what they are missing.
They are pretty sure they do.
“There will be a group of people and they will be talking, but they’re not talking to each other,” Lawrence said of a cell phone/computer-driven age that he and partner Beach consciously have chosen not to join. “They are talking to someone else who’s not there.”
Beach and Lawrence, partners in life and art since 1991, live a life unwired.
As such, they believe they are more connected to the world around them than are others who have all the latest technological toys.
In 2001, the couple purchased a personal computer as a means of keeping books for his hairstyle salon and for Dot’s Pots, the Moline boutique where they sell their quirky, homemade clay figurines.
“Dan used it once or twice, then it sat in the box,” Beach said of a desktop computer that collected dust in a closet for several years.
Ultimately, it became too old to sell, and they donated it to a nonprofit group.
In the early 1990s, the couple traveled to art fairs around the Midwest with a cell phone that never could be confused for a newfangled smartphone.
It was roughly a foot long, Lawrence said, and came with a carrying bag.
“We used it once when we broke down on the interstate coming back from an art fair,” he said.
When they stopped traveling a few years later, they did away with the phone and say they haven’t missed it.
Beach and Lawrence don’t have e-mail accounts.
And texting? Facebook? Twitter? Please. Please. And please.
“I like snail mail,” Beach said. “I like to write letters.”
The couple doesn’t own an iPod or an iPad. They listen to their music on CDs.
Until the digital conversion, the television in their kitchen was a portable black and white. The replacement is a 27-inch high-definition-capable flatscreen, but their basic cable television subscription does not include HD.
Beach and Lawrence occasionally venture onto the Internet at a friend’s home or at the library.
“We have never been on it by ourselves. We always take someone with us. And not very often,” Beach said, sounding one-part phobic, the other part proud.
Yes. Believe that. Beach, 54, and Lawrence, 60, proudly are out of touch in this high-speed, broadband, 4G age.
“We think it’s cool,” Beach said of their unconnectedness. “Because we get to talk to people face-to-face. It feels better.
“Of course, we may be like our parents or great-grandparents who never wanted to use a microwave or anything else.
They didn’t know how, and they wouldn’t learn.
“That might be us instead. But I vote it is because we want interaction with other people.”
In the minority
Roughly 21 percent of American adults did not use the Internet in 2009, according to the most recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey on broadband access.
Only one in 10 of those non-users said they would like to venture into cyberspace in the future.
Meanwhile, 82 percent of Americans own and use cell phones, a number that is up from 65 percent in 2004. But that still leaves roughly a fifth of the country tethered to landlines.
Aaron Smith, a senior researcher who conducted the 2010 Pew survey, said non-Internet users overwhelmingly said online information had little relevance to their lives.
But he said a lack of understanding of how to use a computer and/or the Internet also was a significant factor.
The annual study does not bother to break down age levels of non-Internet and/or cell phone users, Smith said, because the vast majority of those are known to be older than 65.
Although he said his organization stays “out of the prediction business,” he did note, “many of the people who are now 50 to 60 are very tuned in technologically,” which could mean the percentage of unwired Americans will continue to dimimish.
As for holdouts like Beach and Lawrence, folks who wonder whether the wired world is a better world, Smith said, “Honestly, we don’t have a particular dog in that hunt. We don’t promote technology. We tell people what the numbers are and allow them to draw their own conclusions for that.”
“Obviously, we have found consistently in our research that there is a fairly sizable group of people who are not terribly engaged in technology and don’t feel they are particularly missing out on anything,” Smith said.
“Just like there is a group that has a lot of technology. They’ve got a computer, a BlackBerry, an iPod. And it stresses them out. They feel like they are constantly awash in information and having to be always on and available.”
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Count Lawrence as decidedly among the former. And that’s partly because he has seen evidence of the latter.
He cut the hair of a construction company owner who couldn’t escape for a few quiet minutes in the barber chair.
“Every time he answered his cell phone, he was mad,” Lawrence said.
Dr. John Ciaccio, a board-certified psychiatrist with the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health, said all the new technology can have its drawbacks.
But he said, “My personal view is, I think it’s for the better. I don’t see it as losing human relationships. For the vast majority, it makes it easier to communicate.”
Lawrence and Beach, the Dot in Dot’s Pots, remain skeptical, although they have made concessions to the encroaching new wave.
They use, and occasionally curse, a computerized kiln in their potting studio. And in the store that fronts their Moline home, they grudgingly added a credit card machine three years ago.
“People stopped carrying cash, and they stopped carrying checks,” said Beach, lamenting another way the world has changed.
The artists are well aware they could enhance their business by selling their work via a website.
But that could mean more hours spent wrapping and shipping product and fewer hours spent making it, they said.
Theirs, they conceded, is an artist’s sensibility vs. that of a businessperson.
And they are fine with that.
They prefer not to hire help, like to write receipts by hand, and they keep their books the same way.
Mostly, both said, they like looking their customers in the eye.
“I understand what you mean,” Beach said of the opportunities to grow their business via technology.
“But we don’t want to. We like it just the way it is. We like making pots and seeing the people who get it and hearing their stories of how they use it and what they use it for.
“I talk to people. They come in, we talk and we get to be friends.”
The couple said the wired world is encroaching a bit more on their lives every day, but Lawrence and Beach will be holdouts for as long as they can.
“It’s normal to us,” she said of their unwired life. “Though we know we’re a little abnormal.”