Sunday, August 8, 2010

Checking Her Phone

What was she checking? The time? A very important message? Was she late for a very important date perhaps:

I try not to be a "cell phone person," even if I do own a superphone. I don't walk down the street talking on the phone like there's nobody around me. I don't even like talking on my phone outdoors if I can help it. Hell, I still use my landline as much as possible. I prefer it, yet.

I entered the cell phone generation in 1999, which by some standards even then was considered a little "late." I don't think I replaced it until 2003 or so, which is beyond several lifetimes in the world of electronics. I knew it was time to get a new phone when I took the black massout of my pocket in a group of people and someone asked, "is that a VCR?"

"No," I replied, "It's a rotary cell-phone."

I got a similarly low-functioning phone after that. Just calls. If I wanted to email or message, it took over five minutes of going through different screens and hitting "OK" just to complete the process (I kid you not). But even then, my feelings about using the phone were the same. It wasn't anything I'd want to be doing out in public, and would never forsake the landline I got when I moved in. I remember around that time seeing someone with a Treo device, with the keyboard on the phone, and I thought it was the most obnoxious thing in the world.

I got my first Treo in the fall of 2005, and by doing so entered the superphone generation. No more waiting ridiculous amounts of time to make a simple text or email. Now I had the world in my pocket: email, web, messaging, phone, and before I knew it I joined the ranks of people looking down and typing with their thumbs while walking down the sidewalk, a skill akin to checking the radio while driving.

But I remembered having mixed feelings as I walked to my friend George's house. The whole way I had been rapid-fire emailing some woman I had been seeing, indulging this power I previously never had. And yet something kept nagging at me. I couldn't help but feel that maybe I had become part of the problem.

I was now "connected." I joined the Borg. I was no longer on the outside, but completely reachable at all times (if I so chose). I still have mixed feelings about it. Checking your email obsessively is bad enough when you're sitting at home in front of the computer but it's ten times worse when all you have to do is look at your phone.

I read an article recently about how all this information checking is dulling people's creativity. I believe it. I don't feel I've really been the same creatively since I first started going online back in 1994. It's eroded my creativity somewhat. I've had my moments, but I can see how the anxiety of wondering who's out there and who may be wanting to get in touch (or not)...

It's hard to block these things out sometimes. A lot of the times, actually. Finish a sentence, hit the tabs. Any email? Any Stupidbook messages? Any activity on my Flickr since I uploaded those pics...It can be fucking maddening if you allow it to be.

And now we depend on those damned things, our phones. In oldern times that don't really feel so long ago, I drove across this fine country without a cell phone. Me and millions of other people. Now I can't go around the corner for some groceries without the tether in my pocket. It's a goddamn shame.

Am I going to get rid of the thing? Of course not. But I'd like to think I'm still not a "cell phone person." I don't use it to check the time because I have a watch. And I no longer do rapid fire emailing and texting while walking (if I can help it). Though I find that when I'm out and about it's good to have something else on my mind so I'm not just mindlessly thrusting my hand into my pocket to see if an email came in.

I find being out taking pictures is a good distraction from the stupidphone. Having a camera in my hands keeps them occupied. I'm reminded of a quote from Aqua Teen Hunger Force: "Idle hands spend time at the genitals." Well, not in public (for me, most of the time), but I think it can be said for many people that if they're not manipulating themselves, they're probably on the phone. Unless of course they're having phone sex (god love 'em).

And so our phones that were supposed to bring us all together have actually driven us farther apart. We can hide in plain site just by putting a phone up to our ear while walking down the street, choosing to isolate ourselves rather than interact with those around us. Perhaps it refines the concept of "alone together" (as Luc Sante described what it means to be a resident of NYC in Low Life), even further.

I feel I have more to say, but it would be too tangential (and that's saying something, even for me). So I'll pick it up another time. And maybe I'll leave my cell phone on my desk and not take it to the couch to play "Word Ace" while I watch TV, and maybe I'll turn the computer off too. Or wait, maybe I don't even have to turn on the TV. There's a lot of books that need readin' in this here apartment, and that film in the fridge ain't gonna develop itself...

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