The glow

I don’t have a smart phone, I have a flip phone that’s circa 2007 at the latest. I don’t quite remember how it worked out like that, but when it comes to the creep of technology, the one object that did always weird me out, to a degree, was a smart phone.

A television! A computer! Fitting right in your pocket! Who’d want that? (They had always seemed prohibitively expensive, too.) But the thing is, I’m probably going to have to suck it up and get one soon, as my iPod is seemingly on the fritz and Instagram is a siren call of the delicious possibility of actually taking A Photo A Day and seeing what that entails – remember that resolution that you made in 2002, and how it’s so easy these days? – and in these waning days of ignoring my flip phone, I’m feeling something on the verge of sentimentality about it. And yet, I sort of enjoy being a smartphone holdout, even if it puts me alongside Jonathan Safran Foer, of course. (Oh, noted: the guy who wrote that NYT article definitely has a smartphone now. Hmmm.) 

But since it’s on my mind, I will admit that I’ve been more observant of the way that people use smart phones, particularly in my corner of Brooklyn, as of late, and it feels like the future, and I think the future may suck. To whit: everyone is a creepy zombie, looking down on their phone, in so many situations. I have huffed “look up!” to people who crash into me on the street. The subway, formerly a moving library, has quickly turned into a Black Mirror-style hellhole where nobody’s reading books anymore and the bulk of people are playing Candy Crush, with the sounds on, blissfully unaware of the intrusion on other people’s lives. Yes, there are people reading “longform” on their phones, but they are far more likely to be playing dumb games, to be honest. What gets me is the complete displacement, the way that you can just be someplace else and not even paying any attention to where you are — which is the subway, and you should pay a modicum of attention to it.

I have been early for a concert where nearly everyone is killing time with their phone, staring at their phones together with their friends, as opposed to conversing. Saw a couple on a date at Calexico where they literally showed photo after photo of each person doing stuff with their “friends” to each other. It felt like a next level of conversation that I couldn’t even ponder. I was like, how is this going to lead to sex, good-looking young couple that could be some edgy urban ad? It seems like an elaborate way to not have a conversation. I usually don’t check my phone when I’m with my friends, but conversely, my friends are attached to them all the time. When they’re freelance writers and small business owners, I get it, they are on call like a doctor (an editor writes jump you write back and say how high? They expect you to be on all the time now), needing to know what’s going on so that they can make money and survive. That’s fine. I don’t take it personally and I’m sure they don’t mean it personally. But I don’t like having to navigate that sort of interaction.

There’s a certain kind of dead-eyed glaze that happens when you’re talking to a peer the exact moment that they’re like, oh, I’ll check my cellphone. You know it. It’s the exact point that somebody’s not listening to you, that your conversation in an instant becomes regulated to silly chatter, like it’s the end of Revolutionary Road or something.

But I don’t want that kind of communication to be default. It’s why movies, despite the fact that they’ve gotten worse over the past ten years, are probably my favorite form of art. No phones. Nobody saying hey, I need to prove that I’m here, seeing this thing, keeping track on my phone for some audience. (Except for the awful feelings of the phone’s ambient light at the beginning – terrible. And I noticed more phones when I lived upstate and was going to a lot of Nic Cage movies.) Concerts, on the other hand, have gotten worse. You see it: people drop out of hearing the music, of being there, of feeling it in their body, all for a shitty recorded moment or a bad looking photo just to prove that they were in the same room as a band, their hands stretched out over their head so the people behind them are looking through a glass screen. I mean, there are also professional photographers at lots of concerts. You could have a better photo.

I’ve read a bunch of What The Internet World Is Doing To Us books, and lots of them feature people (men, men, men) being like Hey, I’m going to Stunt Journalism my way away from the internet for a month: what will happen! The results are a boring diary of addiction, of people feeling convinced that if they get one hit, one moment, of knowing what is going on, they’ll feel better. I don’t know. I’m happy to drop off the grid when I get the chance (happier now because I have a full-time job – freelancing is different), and the grid, on the regular, makes me feel a lot of anxiety and makes my brain far more all over the place. I don’t know how you have a holistic time with the internet, but it would be a nice thing to figure out. I think it’s why meditation is starting to become a Silicon Valley 2.0 “way to be” but they’re mainstreaming it and monetizing it in a way that’s totally gross, and beyond the point of paying attention, which is what you want a lot of life to be about. Paying attention. Staying curious.

Thank god I’m not dating in this modern era of 2014. The behaviors that annoy me are frustrating enough with friends and strangers – with people I was looking for a romantic connection with, they’d be liable to be heartbreaking. I know myself that I’m a squishy marshmallow under a hard candy shell. I think a lot of people are. But there’s so many more options for building up walls these days.