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.