You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?**
This is the kind of conversation I love to speculate about, the kind that occurs after midnight with a gaggle of friends and a few bottles of wine. The kind that veers left then spins around so we can’t remember where it started. The kind that ends with a demonstration. It always like fireworks, one person’s words bursting forth and then another’s, the conversation rapidly intensifying until the subject has been exhausted.
Am I wearing high heels?
Is someone on the other side of the blender?
Does a blender’s blades go all the way to the top?
Is there water on the bottom?
If a single person took out their smartphone and looked it up, the fun would be over. Smartphones and search engines have destroyed our ability not only to reason, but to banter for long periods of time.
I am not a modern-day luddite. I don’t want to destroy technology. I just want screens to be locked in cages at dinner or in art museums or when I am with a group of people and we’re experiencing a moment together.
Why I gave up my phone
When I moved back and forth from Canada, I disposed of a lot of stuff: bags of clothes, old laptops, etc. La vie of the nomad.
It took me at least a month to acquire a new phone in Quebec. Upon my arrival, I went to FIDO (a phone service branch) and tried to get a new phone in French.
Je voudrais un telephone.
And then the salesperson went into this long, incomprehensible diatribe about cellphone plans.
Eventually, after several trips to the place, they sold me the iPhone 3, my first smartphone. Every day, after French class I checked my email and Facebook at Cafe Depot just to see if I had a new message, waiting to be unwrapped. Usually, the new message was not a “what-have-you-been-up to” email from my mom, but an email newsletter telling me I could get 20% off of winter boots.
I became one of those people, whipping out my phone every 10 minutes. Refreshing the screen. Texting when I could have been talking to people in front of me. Scrolling the latest sales on faux monkey hair coats.
Flash-forward to when I moved back to Seattle jobless and homeless*.
I couldn’t use my Canadian cell phone to call my American homies without racking up a huge bill. So I stopped. And eventually bought a burner. A burner is gangsta talk for one of those flip-up pre-paid phones, the kind boring people like me use for emergencies. For at least six months, I have been living without all-day email, texts, and GPS. My phone is more alarm clock than anything. Every text takes a half a minute away, so I only have about four contacts who have been notified to use my LANDLINE (that’s right). I’ve had to memorize numbers again.
It’s been at least six months.
What I’ve learned:
- Digital Invasion is a real thing. At Christmas, I looked over and noticed a mini-screen in front of every person. And we were all gathered in front of the TV. It was strange. Conversations don’t roll along anymore, like rivers. They jerk forward like cars in traffic. Updates and not-real news constantly force themselves into our lives.
- It’s easier than I thought. When I gave up the phone, I thought I would miss it more. The biggest inconvenience is that I no longer get the “hang-out” texts. No one can spontaneously get a hold of me; I force friends to get creative.
- Smartphones make you dumb. I feel smarter without the smartphone telling me where to turn or when my next appointment is or whether it will rain or snow. I also feel like my tech-induced ADD has receded.
- Texting and driving is stupid and dangerous. When I drive, which isn’t often, I am never distracted by texts or phone calls. Before, when I had a phone, I would try to balance the phone on the steering wheel and glance at the text. I was risking my life to get a text that just “what’s going on?” or “bring home milk plz.”
- Work can wait. Smartphones are the best thing to happen to an office since the photocopier. Now a business has its workers, glued to tiny screens all of the time. No more “I wasn’t at home” excuses.
- Payphones have the time and make cool noises and are very useful when traveling.
- My whole life is [not] on that thing. In the Boston airport, I watch a woman tiptoe on the edge of a breakdown after losing her iPad. “My whole life is on that thing.” She trembled so severely, as if someone kidnapped her child. While I would be devastated if I lost my beloved computer, it isn’t my life. I use it to record moments from my life. The mind has far better storage. Interact with weather and art without filtering it through a screen and nothing will ever be lost.
Here I am, out of the blender, enjoying my freedom.
*Not homeless-cold-on-the-street homeless. Homeless-in-a-hotel-for-a-few-weeks, homeless. They had free cookies and ShowTime. Maybe the more appropriate term would be addressless.
**Thank you, Wall Street Journal and Google for coming up with one of my favorite interview questions.