In 1998 I was in high school, young and knee-deep in free time. A bunch of my friends and I stood in front of the school and one took out his cell phone. It was one of those heavy, flip-phones that looked like an electric shaver. “Nope,” I said. “I don’t need a phone. Cell phones aren’t for me. What am I going to do? Carry it around with me all day? How dumb is that?!”
When I was growing up, the Weiss family was a family that had only a few electronic gadgets. We had an old home phone, a bulky TV and a microwave and that was it. But with this old TV, MTV arrived. I would spend hours watching this incredibly cool and new station. I was maybe twelve years old and received a crash course in adult life. I got to know Michael Jackson and his talent split me in half. I would dance all day listening to BAD. At that time, no one thought he was strange. No one was laughing.
There was one TV in our living room that my family shared. No TVs in the bedroom. Then, there was a computer that my dad brought home at some point: The Commodore 64 which eventually got replaced with a “real computer” and Windows 95.
I remember typing letters with an old typewriter. There was no Internet, no e-mail, no texting, no FaceTiming, no GPS-ing (there were road-maps for fuck’s sake and I knew how to read them!), no tweeting, no Facebooking, and no Instagramming. Eventually, I became aware of the existence of e-mail and considered checking “google”, but the film War Games had taught me that the computer could start a nuclear war so I decided to wait and see. In the meantime, I wrote letters (I still do!) and maintained a healthy dose of eye contact.
And now? Now my phone sits in my pocket all the time. I am obsessed and addicted and convinced that my phone is trying to kill me. By the way, when I say “my phone” I mean my iPhone and my iPad and my MacBookAir and all technological devices in general.
I am glad we have electricity and anesthesia, but I think the robots will kill us all. Here’s proof:
My phone does not want me to finish anything or do any work in general. While I typed the first paragraph of this essay, I checked my phone because I received several WhatsApp messages. I paused writing and checked the damn phone. Then I googled how to write “flip-phone”. Then I went to Wikipedia to check when the first phones were produced and clicked on first Nokia Cell Phone which reminded me I needed my hair done, so I texted my hairdresser when appointments are available. She sent me a picture of herself from a trip to Jamaica from last year and I put a filter on it with a funny caption and sent it back. What is this phone doing to me? I have a name. Dignity. It wants to sleep next to me and buzz at just the right intervals so I forget to eat or make deadlines.
My phone tries to make me feel bad about how I look. When I was younger I used to have things called “parties”. Those still exist but differently. Back then, they were fun hangouts where we would get together and talk and dance. During these “parties” I would maybe take pictures with things called “cameras”. Weeks later, I would pick up those pictures from a strange guy who lived in a tiny photography store in the middle of town. By that time, the party had become a distant memory, something that I had experienced in real-time with little regard as to how I looked. I would receive the hard copies of the pictures and throw away the ones I didn’t like. No one would see those pictures but me. No one would be allowed to comment on those pictures until I decided to physically show them. They would be a reminder of a good time but not something that kept me distanced from the experience. Now, things are so different.
My phone wants to show me things I should not see. I once read that the three things that shorten your life are smoking (duh!), artificial sweetener, and violent images. I believe this to be true. Violent images are not new and these days, for example in the U.S., violence is at a different level. I just look at the grotesque images on my phone while I wait in line at the bank. But all this is important as good wine pairing. Most of what my phone shows me is bad for my eyes. My eyes need a rest, spiritually and literally. My eyes hurt when I stare at my phone because, you guessed right, my phone wants to kill me.
My phone wants me to love it more than my child. I taught my son to swim and he was at the edge of a swimming pool. He slipped and went under. I jumped in and pulled him out right away. We were both scared but he was fine. But my phone had been in my back pocket of my shorts. My first thought was of course how awesome it is that I saved my son from drowning. My second thought right after was, “FUCK MY PHONE GOT WET!” I quickly ripped it open and started to dry it with a hairdryer at the pool’s changing area. Someone told me to put rice and the phone in a Ziploc bag which apparently pulls the water out. I spent the day without my phone, even though I had two other gadgets that allowed me to constantly check my e-mails and texts. I paced mourned hoping the rice would soak up the water (It didn’t.) I realized I might have to go out that night without my phone. I put my iPad in my purse just in case. WTF! This is the behavior of a crazy person.
Final recap and review: my phone is trying to kill me. It is a battery-charged rectangle of disappointment and possibility. It is a tautological pacifier. It can make me feel connected, happy, sad, loved and unloved, ugly, pretty, important, and unimportant, and vindicated.
I am still the controller of technology. I don’t want to become a slave. I believe in people, not machines. Life is endings and beginnings. It can be hard, this life. Beautiful, too. But, no one can do it alone because we need other people. No matter how great the machines are.
Everything is always backed up on the “cloud” and I can find my phone if I lose it. It is only a matter of time before my phone finds me.