WHERE’S MY CELL PHONE?

By Paul

I’ve had several experiences lately which have taught me the power of gadgets.  They’ve all had to do with people whom I know well, very intelligent women in each case, who have recently acquired a brand new I-phone.  I can’t say for sure if any of them had already had an earlier variant of the thing, but according to them all, this new version was – wow!  They were eager to show it to my partner and me, along with all of the tricks, all the nifty, spiffy stuff these miracles of modernism could perform.  It made my head spin a little, I have to admit, to witness their legerdemain, what these contrivances, these paeans of technological prestidigitation were capable of. 

But before I continue, I do have one shameful confession that I feel I have to make.  In doing so, I realize that I ought to be hanging my head a little, although somehow – and no doubt perversely – I cannot find it within myself to do so, but anyway, here goes:  neither my partner, nor I, has a cell phone of any kind, let alone one of the newest and chicest variety!  There, I’ve gotten it off my chest.  Why that is we’ll perhaps get into a bit later.  For the moment, though, I hope it will just suffice to say that we’ve decided against it.       

Now, I understand that this confession may come as something of a shock.  The two of us are, in fact, quite literally (well, alright, except for one other person) the only people among all those whom we know who are bereft of this archetype of twenty-first century communications.  But what will happen, people often say to us, if your car breaks down?  What would happen if you are on the freeway and are possessed of an overpowering desire, an unyielding yen, for a veggie burrito, but know of no credible Mexican restaurant in the area?  How would you look one up?  And what if you were lost, or separated, in a busy terminal, how in God’s name would you ever go about finding each other again?  Isn’t it dangerous, they say?  Isn’t it tempting fate; isn’t it just plain dumb (let’s use the actual word they’re probably thinking), NOT to have a cell phone?

Well, all I can say is that, so far at least, we seem to have gotten along just fine without it.  Oh, well, except for that one time, I guess!  We were in Paris, staying in a cheap hotel, one without a computer in the lobby for public use, and were planning on leaving next morning.  We wanted to arrange for our boarding passes in advance, so in my best French I asked the attendant at the desk where the nearest internet café was located.  He had to ask someone else, who in turn asked another person, but nobody seemed to know.  Such an emporium hardly seems to exist anymore.  After much searching, we did finally find one not far from the Sorbonne, but I think that it may well have been the last internet café operating in all of Paris.

Of course, I’m not saying that having a cell phone would have saved us in this case, although I’ll admit it may have been of some small assistance.  But, other than that, so far we have never really needed one.  More to the point, though, I have to say that there’s something about these tiny devices that, frankly, I find to be more than a little annoying. 

How many times have you seen people with their noses in their cell phones, when you might just think, why aren’t they talking with the people they’re with, or why aren’t they looking where they’re walking, or why aren’t they just experiencing the world around them?  It’s especially annoying when you see people looking at the world around them THROUGH their cell phones!  Just as one example among many I could cite, we were at a very interesting art installation recently at the LA County Museum of Art.  It’s called “Metropolis II,” and it consists of a huge kinetic model of a city that has a thousand miniature cars racing along at high speed on what can only be called tiny freeways.  It’s an amazing sight; everyone was mesmerized.  And then there was the group that seemed to only be able to experience it through the lens of their cell phones.  It was as if they were holding up some kind of electronic shield in front of their faces, protecting them from the actual experience of seeing the thing, with the putative objective – I suppose – of maybe being able to show it to somebody later, who would also experience it only “virtually,” just as they had, in fact, done.  I don’t get it.  We saw the same thing a couple of years earlier, too, in the Louvre.  There they were, dozens of people crowded in front of the Mona Lisa (i.e., La Joconde) looking at one of the world’s iconic paintings through a tiny gadget.  Can it be said that they really experienced the painting? It didn’t seem to me as though they had.  Instead, it looked as if they were experiencing their cell phone looking at the painting.

And as you see, I’m not even talking about those people who illegally text or talk on their cell phones while driving.  Dante, I am sure, would have found a special place in one of the lower circles of hell for them.  I’ll give you one example, though, just because it was egregious beyond even what I thought I could have imagined.  There she was, this chic-looking blond woman probably in her early forties, sitting in a giant SUV, talking on a cell phone, which she held to her ear with her left hand, while at the same time applying make up (I am not exaggerating!) to her face with her right hand, all the while “driving,” if it can be called that, ostensibly steering, with her elbows!  I swear to you, I actually witnessed this, and I am not exaggerating just to make a point. 

The answer to my title question, then, about the whereabouts of my cell phone is a simple one:  it’s nowhere to be found, because it doesn’t exist!  I don’t have one.  I’m not looking for it, and I don’t regret its absence, nor am I pinning away for one.  If I had to, I guess I’d probably agree with you if you were to call me a bit of a Luddite, you know, one of those anti-technology people who rail against the latest new gadget, which in reality is such a huge wave as to be utterly unstoppable.  Still, I’m maybe not such a hopeless case.  After all, Kevin and I are publishing a BLOG!  And here I am, sitting at a computer each day and typing this stuff out.  Kevin and I frequently write back and forth to each other, too, on email (email, mind you, not snail mail, so called).  Although the messages we send ought more properly to be called “letters,” you know, in that quaint, now almost embarrassingly old-fashioned nineteenth century style.

But there’s no doubt that gadgets are powerful devices.  They have a fascination and an intoxicating, hypnotic, almost obsessive hold on lots of folks.  I’ve even heard people say those very words: “I am obsessed with my I-phone!” But isn’t that a shame?  Wouldn’t it be better to be obsessed with – oh, I don’t know – maybe literature, or art, or even let’s say exercise?  Or am I wrong?  Do you find me hopelessly obsolete in my thinking?  It may be so.  But I’d rather a thousand times take a walk in an actual forest than in a virtual one.  And if I were ever to meet someone famous, say Pres. Obama, I hope I would reach out and shake his actual hand, and not instead stick a listening device between him and me.  So, for now I’ll stay the way I am, although I should no doubt stop haranguing people about how they choose to be.  After all, I’m just an old liberal, that is, an old-fashioned kind of guy, as much as I am typing this on a computer.  And if in the end you do choose to keep your cell phone, just promise me one thing:  please, promise me that I won’t be driving down the street one fine day, only to look over and see you driving with your elbows!  And that’s really about all I have to say on this topic.  Thanks, though, and have fun (I guess) with your latest app.

2 thoughts on “WHERE’S MY CELL PHONE?

  1. While I agree with Paul that it is stupid and dangerous for someone to be driving, walking and or ignoring what is going on around them while engrossed with their cell phone, I will say that not all of us do these things, and yet truly enjoy the positive aspect (and yes, convienence) of having a cell phone. I have noticed too, that some people who do not own one, do not hesitate asking to borrow mine to make a call that they can not make because there are not longer very many pay phone available anywhere! I’m not saying that this is a bad request, and I am more than happy to offer my phone for such times. Like any new “gadget” that is invented, it is how it is used.

    I admit that I have a cell phone that also acts as a tablet, and yes, it fasinates me. I have had to use it in emergencies where there was no other phone around and walking to where there was one would be putting my life in danger!

    I do not use it while I’m driving, and even only use the blue tooth device to talk on the phone when absolutely nescessary. I too, have witnessed people multitasking while driving and/or walking, and was involved in a near collision when the driver was talking on the phone and watching where he was driving.

    Do I think that cell phones, Iphones or Black Berries are a necessity. No. Do I enjoy having one. Most definitely!!

    • Paul, I really admire you guys for resisting the pressure to have cell phones. I’ve had them for about 12 years, I guess, and I don’t like them. Fortunately, nobody’s cell phone rings out here in our woodland properties, and we don’t have to deal with them in our home, art studios, barn or gardens. I carry my cell phones only when I am on the road working, so they last a long time. I had my last cell phone for eight or ten years, and it was a “Barney Rubble Flintstones” cell phone to begin with. It didn’t even take photos. Finally all the numbers and letters wore off the buttons (yes, it had buttons!) and I started having a lot of trouble making calls, because I had to guess which buttons to push to enter phone numbers. So Robert took me by the hand and we drove into the city to the Verizon store to trade in my Flintstones cell phone for a new one. When I put my poor old phone on the counter, a crowd gathered around whispering things like, “I’ve heard about these phones, but I never expected to actually see one!” or “This is amazing! I wonder how old it actually is!” I stupidly allowed the Verizon representative to talk me into a much more advanced phone that can take pictures and even go on line with something called “blue tooth,” whatever that is. I don’t know and I don’t care to know. I’ve never taken a picture with my phone or gone on line. Unfortunately, I’m paying a monthly fee for this mysterious blue dental feature. I have vowed that as soon as I am permitted to trade in my phone and renegotiate my contract, I am going to downgrade… It they allow people to downgrade. I’ll bet nobody ever downgrades. I may have to insist.

      My observation about these I-phones is that they are not really primarily phones anymore. They are portable entertainment centers. Robert has one that he seems to enjoy immensely. He listens to music on it and plays games. He asks it vocal questions, and it answers him! His I-phone has become his primary camera, too. He does not make or receive many phone calls with it. It is a toy that he plays with. That’s okay. It may even be healthy for people to have these pocket entertainment systems in America where folks who still have jobs have to work 80 hours per week. My hypothesis is that I-phones are so popular because they make people look like they are working all the time with the help of these professional little portable computer-phones, when actually they are secretly beating the system and stealing some play time for themselves. That’s probably a good thing for the sanity of the masses. But I’m with you — I just wish they wouldn’t drive or walk while playing with them.

      For my part, I’d rather choose different toys and entertainments to enjoy in my free time. My favorite is sitting by the pond and watching the koi jump. Thank you for your wonderful article about cell phones and gadgets. Now I don’t feel quite so alone in my ambivalence toward technology. But riddle me this… Why is it that such a huge percentage of Americans are deeply hostile toward science, but these same people would never consider giving up their I-phones and other personal gadgets? Aren’t these pieces of technology invented by scientists in research and development laboratories? And concommitantly, why are two old liberal curmudgeons like you and me utterly fascinated by science and research, but rather turned off by technological gadgetry? It’s a mystery.

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