I am one of the luckiest people alive. There are a lot of reasons I say that, but this post is about one reason in particular: I grew up in a world before cell phones were our everything.
This was my first cell phone.
A “dumb phone.” Beautiful.
Today, I go to the doctor, make my next appointment, and the receptionist asks if I need a “reminder card” and I quickly say, “I’m good, thank you,” as I enter the date and time into the calendar on my “smart phone.”
But these phones are anything but smart. And I know I am not the first one to write about this but this is my experience and I think it is relevant to what is happening in this mad mad world today.
Go to a supermarket line, waiting room, train station, salon, basically anywhere in public, and the second someone has to wait to accomplish whatever they are there to do, you will see them reach for and rip out their cell phone like it’s the law. Obviously not EVERYONE does this, but take a minute to check it out sometime if you haven’t noticed it already because you are that person. I’m not judging you – actually I am. Sorry.
I definitely do this at times myself. But usually only when I am uncomfortable (read: the only woman in a waiting room, etc. with a man who I am terrified of having to engage because I am afraid of men in general). I like to “people watch.” I like to observe things. In fact, I’m probably one of the most hyper-observant people in existence.
If you know me, you have experienced a time when I have observed something you were surprised about. If you have lived with me, I have found your keys (or wallet or cell phone or xyz) for you. Observation opens my mind and helps my memory. I think.
But I think my phone and everything on it makes me less intelligent. Especially because of social media – which sucks up my time like nothing else. It’s incredible. Forget about texting, Hangouts, and email. You have to multi-task that shit, dude. There’s also Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (-1000000 since Don Jon became our idiot in chief), Reddit, search engines, porn — wherever you are (!!!), millions of articles, news, opinion pieces, cartoons, dating sites, memes, recipes – all things to put on a “to-do” list I’ll never ever get to in this life as long as I have this phone.
By now you realize I find cell phones absolutely infuriating. I need to keep mine with me at all times because it literally controls what I am doing, and if I don’t have it with me (like I do not as I write this post – to keep from being distracted), then I will miss something. A reminder is going off any minute literally reminding me to do something I need to do. My brain is too distracted to just use itself anymore, I guess.
Still, my friends and family know that I have a cell phone “policy” so to speak. If I have made a plan with someone to have a meal together, to catch up, to spend one-on-one time, or made group plans, you get the idea: my phone can and will wait. The least I can do (and I would argue you should too) is to give the person or people who has/have made time – our most precious commodity – to spend with me – my undivided attention. Literally everything else going on in the world and on my phone CAN and WILL wait.
I’m not a monster. My phone is with me, tucked away in my purse. If I felt it buzzing persistently and/or non-stop (as it is always on silent unless there is an ongoing emergency), I might look to make sure everyone I love is okay. That’s basically the rule. If you need me, keep calling. Otherwise, leave a message and I will call you back.
A former boss of mine used to keep her iPhone on “LOUDER THAN FUCKING NECESSARY EVEN IF YOU ARE HEARING IMPAIRED.” It would “go off” throughout the work day (and after hours as I was expected to be there forever) relentlessly. Text after text. Phone call after phone call. She was obsessed, consumed, and therefore paralyzed by that thing. She is about sixty years old. In fact, I was the youngest person in that office at the time I was working there, and everyone had their phones on high volume. Mine was the only one on “buzzer mode” because – Jesus Christ – I didn’t need everyone knowing my business.
Often, I think about people like my former boss who do not take a step back and look around. Observe. Assess. Question. “What am I doing with my time?” But it is actually worse than that. I’ve observed that cell phones are now a weapon, essentially in every sense of the word “(something that is used for fighting or attacking someone or for defending yourself when someone is attacking you: something (such as a skill, idea, or tool) that is used to win a contest or achieve something).” See: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weapon.
Warning: a one paragraph tangent. This former boss would try to control me through her text messages. She would send them while I was in the office ten feet away. She would send them while she was out of the office and I was in the office working. She would send them after I left work at 11:00 P.M. at night. She would send them in the morning. She would send them on weekends. They were always demanding or demeaning. She expected and felt entitled to automatic and immediate access to me. As for any abusive relationship, my suggestion is this: wait four or five hours to respond, if you do at all. Giving anyone who is that abusive “instant access” to you will only enable them. And you need to be in control of your own life. Trust me.
Our world at present, especially in America, is full of endless possibilities. And when I was “growing up,” cell phones were just becoming “a thing.” I eventually had my own cell phone in high school, but I ONLY used it to call my parents if I needed a ride unexpectedly or if there was an emergency. Anyone else remember “1-800-COLLECT?” What were the companies? AT&T versus MCI? Payphones where the JAM back then. “Texting” only really became “a thing” during my senior year of high school (2003-2004) and it was insufferable to hit the numbers to get the words out. At one point I remember writing down text messages I received from people to save them. They’re in a diary somewhere.
Regardless, I had 18 sweet years of cell phone-free life. A life of actual imagination. A life of going outside to play. Making up stories and scenes with friends and acting them out. There was no “interactive Furby” or whatever the heck is out there now. You played with THE WORLD ITSELF. You SPENT TIME WITH PEOPLE without checking your “status.” We were creative, and smart, and daring, and beautiful. We were perfect. We got dirty. We got into trouble. We scraped our hips jumping the curb in roller blade accidents and fell off our bikes. We utilized nature to have fun. We realized that we were allergic to caterpillars (just kidding: that was just me). We wrote in chalk on the sidewalks, and played almost-sports with our parents, siblings, and friends. I would give ANYTHING to go back to those days.
Now, I often think about bringing a child (or more) into this world. We have an unhinged racist-good-for-nothing “president.” Our country either still hates women – even the most qualified woman to be President in history – so much that they don’t stand a chance of being elected President in my lifetime, or they cannot separate a woman from her husband – which is just as troubling. We use electronics for everything. EVERYTHING. And I hate it. These devices are literally controlling us, attacking our intelligence, our ability to interact with others face-to-face, impacting what we perceive as a powerful weapon (technology) and our thoughts.
Our thoughts are precious. At our fingertips we can share our thoughts through our “smart phones” immediately. But those thoughts are lost among a billion other thoughts that are lost among another billion. Are you reading this? Am I worth acknowledging? Does anyone give a crap about my existence? Hence, my rule.
Yes. I do give a lot of craps about your existence. I cherish your gift of time with me. I crave it. Because it is so very rare now. I often wonder how soon therapy will be done via “facetime.” Fucking animals.
I think I’d be happier living some crazy cult hippy life out in Montana somewhere where no one could find me and my husband, teaching our children how to survive, and to read literature, and to play in the grass barefoot – rather than let them explore Bubble Witch Saga or whatever the fuck is out there now.
I watched two things recently that put this into sharp perspective.
The first was a docu-series on the VICE channel called “Jungletown.” A poor summary of it is that is is a “town” created by a young once-wealthy thirty-something who lost a lot of investment money in the 2008 stock market crisis. He then turned his vision into a start-up business of luring students to a “study-abroad” mess of paying for and building his “town.” These almost exclusively white, privileged students come and expect something that isn’t ready to exist yet, and doesn’t. It probably never will. It shows the natives who CAN survive but are looked down upon for their missing teeth and inability to speak English in a Spanish-speaking country. It’s ten, one-hour-long (with commercials) episodes long, and damn; I couldn’t recommend it more for 1,000,000,000 reasons.
The second is “The Circle,” a film, which was, ultimately, incredibly disappointing. I had hoped for a much better ending. I won’t spoil it as I know it was newly released to Netflix and Redbox, etc., but let’s just say that it shows how being constantly connected isn’t the best thing (like, duh, what a totally obvious crazy idea). I think it was meant to criticize “Google” the most but really hit on every company creating shit in Silicon Valley, as it were. It had some interesting plot points that seriously did not develop to fruition and drove me crazy, but it, again, without spoilers, was about total access to everything a person does in a day, with no privacy.
I, a very present online presence, often regret buying into same. My Mom is way better at anticipating the issues with such things, coming from the generations before me. She doesn’t text. She doesn’t use her cell phone for much, really. And I envy that. Yet, of course, here I am, blogging, which I will the publish on a plethora of sites hoping people will read my “important and thoughtful thoughts,” like anyone gives a shit what I have to say. Same as DJT and his ridiculous illiterate “tweets” which “speak for themselves.” God help us.
So anyway, here’s the point: log the fuck off once in awhile. Live your life without your devices. Look at the fucking beauty of everything and anything around you. Feel emotions that you can experience right in front of you in real time. Stop looking at the bullshit and anger-inducing crap found everywhere on your “smart phone.” Be me, as a 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14 year old again.
Talk to someone you don’t know. Try to make someone laugh. Engage with other people.
I promise, nothing on your phone is important enough to miss everything else you can experience right in front of you, if you just look.