iPhone, Therefore I Am

I was smug; I admit it. Despite the crush of humanity dumping their old-fashioned cell phones in favor of multitasking "smart phones" that are so brilliant they can do everything for you except brew your morning latte, I vowed to keep my little phone for the quaint purpose of making and receiving phone calls. I refused to succumb to the latest trend in all things cellular.

But then, a few drops of water spilled on my Nokia and inflicted fatal damage. Unwilling to accept the grim diagnosis, I repeatedly jabbed the "on-off" button, but after a few feeble attempts to rouse itself to electronic life, the device expired from the effort. No sense beating a dead Norse phone, I figured.

Then I tried a bold experiment and set out to prove that it was still possible to function in 21st-century America without a mobile phone. No 12-step program necessary to wean me from instant communication at every waking moment! But after only two hours of being cell-phone-free, I felt unsettled. Steering my cart through the supermarket, I felt as isolated, as if I were on a deserted island. I eavesdropped on other shoppers as they chatted on their phones, discussing their dinner plans, their in-law's gallstones, or their rotten boss's latest tirade at the office, all while they deftly reached for the Wheaties and the frozen corn. As for me, I had no one to talk to, no text messages to check. All I could do was shop and, if I still remembered how, to think. I felt invisible. Several times I reflexively began to reach into my purse to check for any missed calls -- until I remembered that my dead phone was languishing at home in the kitchen junk drawer.

I did not like my return to life in the dark ages, as if it were still the early 1990s. But I also felt obligated to forge ahead in my cellular-deprived existence even if it meant taking drastic measures, such as relearning to focus on one thing at a time. My goal was to see if I could actually remember how to spend time alone with my thoughts, if I could still access them in my internal hard drive.

Three days into my experiment, there was a bright spot: One of my sons, in college on the east coast, took drastic measures and called me at home. "Where have you been?" he demanded. "I've been texting you for two days and you didn't answer! I was getting worried." Well! It took nineteen years and the dousing of my Nokia, but the kid finally expressed concern about his mother.

As you will have guessed by now, my resistance was cracking a little each day. The fact that other family members complained that I was not reachable every moment of the day was actually liberating, but missing work calls was completely unacceptable. Ultimately, I couldn't shake the feeling that my lifestyle was as antiquated as if I lacked indoor plumbing, or a computer with a 250-gigabyte hard drive with an integrated Ethernet networking system. Without my cell phone, I might as well put on one of those bonnets worn by Amish women.

My unnerving experiment in living a Luddite existence lasted for six days, but on the seventh day, I rested. Exhausted from the strain of not being able to multitask in the maniacal method that cell phones allow, I went to the phone store and looked in total bewilderment at various BlackBerries and iPhones. I found them all confusing and intimidating, yet irresistibly tantalizing. My previous notion of just replacing my not-so-smart phone was a distant memory. I had now joined the stampede toward ever greater technological excess.

An hour later, I walked out of the store, fitted up with the latest model of the iPhone. I had no idea how the thing worked, but I liked its touchscreen better than the tiny keys of the BlackBerry. The customer service guy politely suggested I go to Apple's weekend iPhone school to learn how to use it, but I figured I'd just ask my teenagers for a quick tutorial. Neither of my kids at home has an iPhone, but this hardly matters. Today's teenagers are preprogrammed to know how to use these gizmos without opening to page 1 of the manuals.

My iPhone reconnected me to my sense of self-worth. And I discovered that sometimes, just knowing that you have the ability to check your location in longitude or latitude, find out the weather in Azerbaijan, look at your house from Google Earth, check the stock market, download YouTube videos, record voice memos, or play "Where's Waldo?" all while at a red light could induce an urgent desire to do so.

I have paid an embarrassing price for instantly falling victim to iPhone madness, though. Two days after I got it, I tucked the device in its hip holster before setting out to walk my dog, Ken. When I stopped for Ken to conduct his own business, I pulled my phone out to see if I had any new e-mails. After all, it was possible that a lucrative assignment had been sent my way during the ten minutes since we had left the house. But the e-mail was hard to read, since at the very moment I held the phone aloft, a bird dropped its own vulgar message my way, right in the middle of the screen. 

I took this as a very humbling and "teachable" moment, sent from someplace much higher than the tree from which the bird had communicated with me. Now I am setting more reasonable limits on my iPhone usage, though I'd be lying if didn't say I was hooked to this remarkable, absurdly over-accessorized device. Now as soon as I figure out how to change the wake-up alarm from "bark" mode, I'll really be in business. I'll just have to ask my kids. 

Judy Gruen's latest book is The Women's Daily Irony Supplement.
I was smug; I admit it. Despite the crush of humanity dumping their old-fashioned cell phones in favor of multitasking "smart phones" that are so brilliant they can do everything for you except brew your morning latte, I vowed to keep my little phone for the quaint purpose of making and receiving phone calls. I refused to succumb to the latest trend in all things cellular.

But then, a few drops of water spilled on my Nokia and inflicted fatal damage. Unwilling to accept the grim diagnosis, I repeatedly jabbed the "on-off" button, but after a few feeble attempts to rouse itself to electronic life, the device expired from the effort. No sense beating a dead Norse phone, I figured.

Then I tried a bold experiment and set out to prove that it was still possible to function in 21st-century America without a mobile phone. No 12-step program necessary to wean me from instant communication at every waking moment! But after only two hours of being cell-phone-free, I felt unsettled. Steering my cart through the supermarket, I felt as isolated, as if I were on a deserted island. I eavesdropped on other shoppers as they chatted on their phones, discussing their dinner plans, their in-law's gallstones, or their rotten boss's latest tirade at the office, all while they deftly reached for the Wheaties and the frozen corn. As for me, I had no one to talk to, no text messages to check. All I could do was shop and, if I still remembered how, to think. I felt invisible. Several times I reflexively began to reach into my purse to check for any missed calls -- until I remembered that my dead phone was languishing at home in the kitchen junk drawer.

I did not like my return to life in the dark ages, as if it were still the early 1990s. But I also felt obligated to forge ahead in my cellular-deprived existence even if it meant taking drastic measures, such as relearning to focus on one thing at a time. My goal was to see if I could actually remember how to spend time alone with my thoughts, if I could still access them in my internal hard drive.

Three days into my experiment, there was a bright spot: One of my sons, in college on the east coast, took drastic measures and called me at home. "Where have you been?" he demanded. "I've been texting you for two days and you didn't answer! I was getting worried." Well! It took nineteen years and the dousing of my Nokia, but the kid finally expressed concern about his mother.

As you will have guessed by now, my resistance was cracking a little each day. The fact that other family members complained that I was not reachable every moment of the day was actually liberating, but missing work calls was completely unacceptable. Ultimately, I couldn't shake the feeling that my lifestyle was as antiquated as if I lacked indoor plumbing, or a computer with a 250-gigabyte hard drive with an integrated Ethernet networking system. Without my cell phone, I might as well put on one of those bonnets worn by Amish women.

My unnerving experiment in living a Luddite existence lasted for six days, but on the seventh day, I rested. Exhausted from the strain of not being able to multitask in the maniacal method that cell phones allow, I went to the phone store and looked in total bewilderment at various BlackBerries and iPhones. I found them all confusing and intimidating, yet irresistibly tantalizing. My previous notion of just replacing my not-so-smart phone was a distant memory. I had now joined the stampede toward ever greater technological excess.

An hour later, I walked out of the store, fitted up with the latest model of the iPhone. I had no idea how the thing worked, but I liked its touchscreen better than the tiny keys of the BlackBerry. The customer service guy politely suggested I go to Apple's weekend iPhone school to learn how to use it, but I figured I'd just ask my teenagers for a quick tutorial. Neither of my kids at home has an iPhone, but this hardly matters. Today's teenagers are preprogrammed to know how to use these gizmos without opening to page 1 of the manuals.

My iPhone reconnected me to my sense of self-worth. And I discovered that sometimes, just knowing that you have the ability to check your location in longitude or latitude, find out the weather in Azerbaijan, look at your house from Google Earth, check the stock market, download YouTube videos, record voice memos, or play "Where's Waldo?" all while at a red light could induce an urgent desire to do so.

I have paid an embarrassing price for instantly falling victim to iPhone madness, though. Two days after I got it, I tucked the device in its hip holster before setting out to walk my dog, Ken. When I stopped for Ken to conduct his own business, I pulled my phone out to see if I had any new e-mails. After all, it was possible that a lucrative assignment had been sent my way during the ten minutes since we had left the house. But the e-mail was hard to read, since at the very moment I held the phone aloft, a bird dropped its own vulgar message my way, right in the middle of the screen. 

I took this as a very humbling and "teachable" moment, sent from someplace much higher than the tree from which the bird had communicated with me. Now I am setting more reasonable limits on my iPhone usage, though I'd be lying if didn't say I was hooked to this remarkable, absurdly over-accessorized device. Now as soon as I figure out how to change the wake-up alarm from "bark" mode, I'll really be in business. I'll just have to ask my kids. 

Judy Gruen's latest book is The Women's Daily Irony Supplement.