I’ve Still Got You (iPhone)

09 March, 2016

It wasn't until December 2011, my Junior year of college, that I purchased a smartphone--and it was an iPhone 3GS, which, at that point, I am told, was very outdated. I was somewhat aware of this, because the phone was a free upgrade, but I was content not spending money to have the latest, greatest phone. It turns out most people received their first iPhone in high school. I can hardly remember. All I needed was a phone that could call and could text.

(I confessed all this to someone not too long ago, and she was aghast. In August 2013 I brought the phone, screen broken, to an iPhone repair store, and the clerk looked at me, baffled, and asked me why I was even bothering getting it fixed.)

These days, though, you'll often find me with my eyes glued to my phone, reading something, anything. My Twitter feed is essentially a means of ensuring I will always have writing to read. I may wait a full two years before being eligible for an upgrade through my cell provider, but, these days, I always opt for the latest and greatest phone.

In an article from one of those publications I read regularly, the writer references photographer Eric Pickersgill's series, "Removed,"  which features photographs of people going about their day, but with their phones removed. Everyone looks ridiculous. Regarding the origin of the series, he writes:

The work began as I sat in a café one morning. This is what I wrote about my observation: Family sitting next to me at Illium café in Troy, NY is so disconnected from one another. Not much talking. Father and two daughters have their own phones out. Mom doesn’t have one or chooses to leave it put away. She stares out the window, sad and alone in the company of her closest family. Dad looks up every so often to announce some obscure piece of info he found online. Twice he goes on about a large fish that was caught. No one replies. I am saddened by the use of technology for interaction in exchange for not interacting. This has never happened before and I doubt we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience. Mom has her phone out now.

Coincidentally, I read this just a day after sitting in a restaurant and seeing a family--a father, mother, and small child--waiting for their food. In this scenario it was the parents who were on their phones, scrolling, and the child was without a phone, full of energy, looking around for stimulation. When their food was ready and the restaurant called their number, the small boy was the only one who heard it. He told his father and his father asked the mother if she had heard it. Neither of them knew.

I think Pickersgill's comment about how he doubts "we have scratched the surface of the social impact of this new experience" is very apt. I often wonder about small children glued to phones and tablets. I try my best to keep my phone out of my hand when interacting with people, but if someone else pulls out their phone, it's difficult not to follow suit. One UK study estimated that people check their phones 221 times a day--once every 4.3 minutes. A teacher at a private middle school in New York says “It is as though they all have some signs of being on an Asperger’s spectrum." Perhaps I should consider my late adoption of smartphones a blessing.

A couple months ago a friend of mine pulled out his phone to look some fact up, an impulse that likely resonates with many of us, and, instead, he began talking about how crazy cell phones are. About how they're practically an extension of ourselves, ubiquitous, so often in our hands. About how they might as well be considered a body part.

Part of my interest in starting a blog is to process what I have read, to gather my thoughts and order them. I've wondered just how deep my reading could be if I read something and then rather quickly moved on to the next thing. So I am writing as a means of improving my own engagement with the things I care about.

It's important that we don't let our phones drive us to spend our times in ways we know are suboptimal. For me, this means, quite simply, keeping my phone out of reach for most of the day.