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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.