Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Cell-Phone, My Self

I’ve been recently dis-employed (‘re-structured’, they say, though I feel just the same), and I’m still adapting to the new routine, an absence of routine.  And I don’t really miss it: the commute, the meetings, the necessary but pointless on-line courses, the things that come with the job, but aren’t the job.  But I do miss my phone.

It was work-provided, and so work-returned on my exit.  An iPhone 6, white, with a gold metal back (I was working with the mining industry at the time it was ordered).  I liked it, the size, the weight, how it felt in my hand.  How it worked.

We do, of course, have another phone, another mobile.  We cut the land-line years ago, and the family phone - the house phone - is a near-identical iPhone 6.  I use it, sometimes.

But it’s not my phone.  Its settings, its contents, its apps, are a compromise, a neutral Switzerland intended to satisfy a variety of users: me, my wife, our kids.  It’s not appropriate for me to make it too much my own.  I’m not, after all, the one who carries it most.  So, while I’m not, from a communications standpoint, ‘cut off’, the fact remains: it’s not my phone.

Now, of course, I notice it’s absence.  Not like a missing limb; I’m not experiencing phantom buzzing in my shirt pocket, hearing its ringtone in an empty room.  There is a physical aspect of it, and it’s funny how quickly our phones (mere devices for communication) have become talismans, good luck charms, something vital to be checked for when we leave the house -  wallet, glasses, keys, phone.  There’s a reassurance, reaching into a pocket and knowing it’s there.

But no, it’s more than that.  I miss our … conversations.

Think about it: how much time do you spend interacting with your smartphone?  (One recent study suggests Americans are spending, on average 4.7 hours per day with them.)  A good phone, our loyal companion, tells us things (when we’re late for meetings), answers questions (where have we seen that actor before?), and entertains us (that one game you just can’t stop playing).  It advises when to bring an umbrella, or when to turn left, which new restaurants we should try and when we can see that movie.  It’s a best friend, the best of friends, who will help get you home from the airport, but never asks you to return the favour.

And the music - how I miss the music!  True, I haven’t actually lost any of it - it’s all there in iTunes, and available via my desktop computer.  But I don’t have any way to play it: with the phone’s capabilities, there was no reason to have an iPod or mp3 player.  Now, my only-recently-acquired armband sits on a dresser, unused and unwanted, as I make my silent way to the gym.  Like so many things, it didn’t seem really important until it was gone.

For these aren’t just phones, any more, are they, but our servants, assistants, concierges.  The access to banks and our money, to our friends and colleagues.  Where we go for news, sports, and weather; how we get reservations, how we get on planes.  They have become, as a result, a part of us, an object into which we can pour our personalities.  Just think what your phone’s cover or case says about you.

We’ve even lessened their role as a communicator.  Do you ever really answer a call any more if the number isn’t linked to a contact?  Do people even exist if they’re not in our address book?  That, more than ‘missing’ a call, is why (along with Caller ID) we have voicemail: to employ two levels of instant screening.  Greater, more constant access is actually making us less reachable: only those whose number I have can have me.

It’s incredible that the immediacy of a phone call has been replaced by texting.  To be fair, it does eliminate the need to dial, or wait for the other party to pick up, but how incredible that we’ve accepted typing over speaking.  Except, of course, that now we have voice-to-text apps.

But are we really just nothing more than the sum of our apps?  Merely a collection of circuits, copper, aluminum, glass and plastic?

I prefer - I want - to think not, that a smartphone is simply a tool, albeit a remarkable, adaptable, personalized one.

It’s not really that we are our phones - no, it’s fairer to say our phones are us.  The aspects of ourselves that we implant in them, we share without losing.  The phone did not take those parts of me with it - I have them still, waiting to impart them to the next willing receptacle.

Maybe Space Grey next time?