THE THRILL OF THE OLD RINGING BOX PHONE
In the middle of last night, I woke up, for no real reason, like I often do, and instantly did what I also often do: checked my iPhone, which I keep beside me because I always like to know that my daughter, who lives in Boston, is okay.
She was fine. A text message on my home screen confirmed that. I sort of drifted into MAIL where the important announcement awaited me that some Australian Twitter account called School Supplies was following me.
Moving on to Facebook, I saw that my friend Susan Conley had posted a new blog post called “My Smartphone Future.”
Uh-oh, I thought. I knew what was coming.
I, too, had just read the New York Times article she cites, about smartphones and our increasingly distracted brains, and the people (writers!) who’ve weaned themselves off of their smartphones, and are now more focused and free.
I confess I’ve become worried about my tendency to have my smartphone constantly in my hand, and the Times article had made me start to think about the habit in much the same way that I had thought about quitting smoking before I finally did at age 24.
My real dismay came from hearing that Susan thought she had a problem. Recently, after staying at her house, I came downstairs first, and marveled to see her iPhone in the kitchen, lying on the desk, where she’d tossed it after dinner. I never imagined her checking messages while stirring sauces or walking the dog, as she confesses. If she thought she had a problem, what did that make me? Some sad nocturnal Pavlovian rat, knocking the lever in the darkest hours of the night? With shame, I turned the phone off.
But by morning, my unconscious had sorted out how I really felt: I don’t WANT to live without my iPhone. Before smartphones, the thrill off the day was checking email. Before email, it was checking the answering machine, or going to the mailbox. I’m someone who needs to look forward—to parties, to dinners out, to vacations, and to the small daily pleasures that the smartphone does not fail to provide. If I’d lived in the 1930s, like my main character in Cascade, I’m quite sure I would have thrilled to the loud jangle of the box telephone, would have eagerly awaited the twice daily mail service.
And if I give up my iPhone, there’s no going back. Trips to the mailbox these days involves leafing through stacks of nothing and dropping it all straight into the recycling bin.
No, I’m not going to give up my phone. It allows me to travel freely, without a computer; it provides maps and music and weather reports and news. It’s a handy little palmful of magic.
The key, I think, is to muster up some old-fashioned discipline. I already turn off the phone and all internet service when I write. Why not take that discipline a step further? On my list for today: create some new guidelines for myself.
I feel better already.
Susan’s blog post: My Smartphone Future
The New York Times piece: A Hardy Group Holds Out on Smartphones