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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Night of the Living iPhone

I came late to the smartphone revolution, very, very late. I thought that I could side-step the entire movement, just like how I never learned to program a video cassette recorder. I felt like a genius for passing on that tech fad. After not spending a single minute trying to conquer this technology innovation, it up and died a natural death. I felt incredibly vindicated. As much as I tried, I couldn't dodge the smart phone epidemic, but I think that I can bow out from Twitter and Instagram, and probably a lot of other tech epidemics.

For better or for worse, my friends bought me a smartphone for my last birthday and forced me—kicking and screaming—into this new era. I had begun to see that it was unavoidable, that it wasn’t going away like video cassette recorders, and that I would have to relinquish, sooner or later, and get a real phone.

But I haven’t bought into it hook, line, and sinker like most citizens of this tech movement which has eclipsed that of the computer revolution. I’m no Luddite. In fact, I would say that I’m more tech savvy than most; I just never saw a reason to moor myself, 24 hours a day, to a communication device masquerading as a computer. From my vantage point on the sidelines, I saw the phone go from an innocuous little annoyance to a full-blown societal obsession.

From what I could see, the phone had become an addictive, destructive force in the hands of everyone from pre-teens to senior citizens. I swear that I never thought that I was superior to the phone-obsessed all around me, that I was reading a book on the train instead of jerking off on a phone. I didn’t need a phone for work like most of my adult friends, and I didn’t have a crew of classmates or friends to keep in constant touch with like the kids I knew.

I mostly left my sorry little cell phone at home or in the pocket of my bag when I was in public and used it almost exclusively just to send and receive text messages. When even this simple function became obsolete in the era of WhatsApp, I used my antiquated device even less. I was regressing, technologically speaking, and it didn’t bother me in the least.

And then on my 60th birthday I took my place in the smartphone mob, at the very back of it, but there I was. I quickly brought myself up to speed on the tech aspects of the new technology. For the most part, I was underwhelmed about the benefits of smartphone applications. Of course, I could now enter into the WhatsApp foray which was really the only appreciable difference the phone offered me.

I spend a good amount of my day looking at a computer screen with internet access, so looking at a really tiny screen didn’t appeal much to me. Whenever someone tries to shove their phone in my face to look at something or other, I tell them to send me a link and I can view it on my computer.

To say that I didn’t feel superior to heavy phone users isn’t to say that I wasn’t constantly appalled by the creepy relationship many people seem to have with their devices. Among my circle of friends I noticed highly unusual behavior, like completely ignoring everyone at a dinner table while staring into the void of whatever the fuck they are doing on their phones. I imagined having my laptop on the table at these dinners and unapologetically scanning random websites and writing emails while waiters set plates down in front of everyone and conversations were muted while people bowed down to the great communication device of the phone.

Look how busy they are all, I thought to myself. It didn’t take much snooping on my part to realize that they weren’t doing business at the table or the bar where we were holding court; they were simply addicted to looking at their phones. To say that they would use any excuse to look at their phones isn’t accurate because they didn’t need an excuse and none were given, but the message was clear: their phones were infinitely more interesting than the face-to-face conversations being offered to them.

My answer was to fight fire with fire, and then some. If I was meeting a friend for coffee and they looked at their phones, I would pull out a book, find my place, and continue reading. I would keep reading until well after they had set down their phones. It’s not like this solved anything and it certainly didn’t send the message to my friends, nor did my direct objections to their cell phone rudeness (no one could accuse me of being passive-aggressive). It’s not like I stewed over what I felt was bad behavior. I knew that objecting would be like trying to push back the waves at the beach. That’s just the way things are today.

I still leave my phone at home when I go out at night with friends. I don’t expect anyone to give me a prize for this gesture. I simply choose not to fall into the rut of phone dependency. I certainly don’t feel that a grown man needs to be patted on the back for realizing that he was being a ninny as far as his cell phone usage. How could you spend five hours a day looking at your phone and not read a damn book? If your teenage son did this you’d be justified in slapping him silly.

Nor do I understand how an adult needs a 12 Step program to lose themselves of a phone addiction. These same phone-addicted souls probably condescend to heroin addicts for being weak, yet they display similar habits and behavior of opioid addiction.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Light in the Tunnel

I hate to moan about our four weeks (or thereabouts) of winter, but I’m glad to feel the air warming. As I have said, my apartment is much better suited for the warm weather: lots of windows, ceramic tile floors, high ceilings, and a balcony.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Growing Pains for a Bike Paradise

The Street in Question

This made the front page of Levante, the local newspaper that usually isn’t carrying on a war against cyclists like the other daily, Las Provincias.

They aren’t asking the right questions. First of all, the bike path hasn’t yet opened; it’s under construction. What has it collapsed? As I live near this street I’ve seen it first hand and nothing has collapsed. Has traffic slowed a bit? Yes, but so what? Is the purpose of city streets only to provide drivers the unlicensed ability to drive at the highest rate of speed allowed?

What these poor excuses for journalism never ask is how does this new bike path un-collapse bike traffic. How many more bikes will now pass down this same street? As the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens.

I was discussing this new addition to Valencia’s bike path network in a bar recently and someone mentioned that ambulances will now be hindered on this one lane street. There are lots of one lane streets in Valencia, and it seems absurd to make urban design dependent on the flow of the occasional ambulance. I lived on the street in question for three years and can’t recall an ambulance passing by. My point is that ambulances will do their job, even when attending to emergencies on this street.

But I’m most insulted by the assertion that cars should be our greatest priority in urban design. On as Friday evening I made my way down Calle Col√≥n which has recently added a bike path along the left side of this one-way thoroughfare. Has the bike path slowed automobile traffic? Undoubtedly, but pedestrian traffic has increased exponentially, a fact never mentioned in the war against bikes being waged by the local press (as I mentioned above, mostly in Las Provincias).

There two a couple of choke points on this street where cars have to turn left into an intersection with a green light for pedestrians. Neither of these two problem areas have anything to do with bikes, but bikes take the blame according to the shoddy journalism in Las Provincias. In my personal experience on a bike, I’ve found that cyclists are much more civil than drivers and pedestrians, but that doesn’t seem to make for fun copy in the cycle-hating press.

What other questions aren’t being asked in these shallow critiques of Valencia’s new aggressive expansion of bike paths? How many people will be able to commute faster to the city center when this particular bike path is finished? How will the diminished access to cars affect the air quality of the city center? How will this alleviate the problem of parking in the center if more citizens choose to effect their commute on a bike? How will the long-term use of cycling improve the health of the people choosing this transportation option?

I could go on and on, as the advantages of bicycles over cars are almost infinite. I just can’t believe that in the local press there is almost no defense of cyclists. The good news is that our current mayor rides a bike to work and understands the benefits of bikes—our former mayor probably never went anywhere except in a tax-payer paid limousine.