I’m literally (not using that word colloquially; this is LIT-trally true) the only person I know who doesn’t have a smart phone. I have a black, regular phone with a QWERTY keypad, which most people assume is a placeholder while I’m waiting for my new iPhone.
It’s kind of funny to me how my basic cell phone is so uncommon that it’s actually a conversation piece. A lot of people comment on the fact that I don’t have an iPhone, and then ask if I want one. The honest answer is no! I really don’t.
Overall, I’m not much of technology person. Obviously, I use technology; I am living in the world of today. But I’ve never been much for “streamlining my life.” I like more old-timey things, even if they are clumsier and take up more space. I prefer books over tablets, board games over video games, sketchbooks over photography, and writing on calendars over setting a phone alert. That being said, my microwave broke for one week and I thought I would starve to death, I’m addicted to watching TV, and I sleep with my laptop. So it’s not like I’m an enlightened ascetic, far-removed from these earthly shackles of materialism. Still, I take a little pride in being technologically retrogressive enough to use an iPod Nano. Wow, that sentence was ridiculous. There is NOTHING quaint about a playing-card-size thing that holds 2000 songs. It’s not like I carry a gramophone in a backpack when I go running. But, you’d think my iPod was a surgical bloodletting kit the way people are like, wow, I haven’t seen one of those in AGES, as they turn it over with awe.
I’m only 21 years old, so it’s so weird to me how a thing that I consciously remember being hyped up and advertised as a “the-future-is-now-can-you-believe-it” product is now so antiquated. We all remember the iPod advertisements: it was a brilliant campaign because the dancing, neon silhouettes allowed every person to put her or himself in those dancin’ shoes. Everyone wanted an iPod. The kids who had one were so cool – I still remember sitting in study hall, glumly listening to the All-American Rejects from my LAME MP3 player. Now, less than a decade later, the iPod is a relic.
This, to me, is reflective of so much more than just the exponential growth of technology in the 21st century. It’s exemplary of America’s true colors. The number one theme that emerged as a constant to me in my years studying three centuries of American literature is the American drive to always be moving forward. We’re like a goldfish – short-term memory of twelve seconds, just keep swimming, whoa, where did that plastic coral come from! From the essays of John Locke to The Scarlet Letter to The Great Gatsby to Gilead, the quintessential American protagonist is a person who truly believes, recklessly and wholeheartedly, that he or she doesn’t have to be defined by the past. What happened last week is old news; it doesn’t matter; tomorrow is the thing. America is forever Scarlett O’Hara standing on the hill that looks down on Tara, forever Dean Moriarty believing that life is out there on the road. We are all Citizen Kane and Don Draper and Lana Del Rey. We can go somewhere else, be someone new, and forget the rest.
In one sense, this is awesome. Past mistakes should never define who you can become, things you didn’t choose – nationality, race, gender, sexuality – should never be limitations, and tragedy is more powerful when we allow it to cloud the brightness and possibility of the future. I’ll never forget the Saturday after 9/11 when Mayor Giuliani went on Saturday Night Live and told the cast, crew, and audience that the show must go on because America had never needed it so bad. Lorne Michaels asked if they could be funny, and Giuliani replied: Why start now? That’s what indomitableness looks like. But, in another sense, this always-forgetting can be dangerous. “Can we?” should never have precedence over “Should we?” It’s only by finding a way to unite who we were with who we are and who we will be that we can be whole and self-possessed people. There’s nothing cynical about gravitas. I personally think that America could use a little more wailing and rending of garments. I’m a huge fan of blind optimism, but the world is kind of hellish. I think with just a drop more of somber realism, the United States might be able to really be the beacon of light and hope that it wants to believe it is. But what do I know; honestly, that’s just my loosely informed and utterly vague opinion that I wholeheartedly believe in. You see there? Blind optimist. I love it.
So, in a real and tangible sense, the rapid gadget evolution of the past fifteen years is exemplary of America moving forward. But, statistics aside, what we consider “standard” technology today fantastically and simultaneously indulges the twin desires of having a self-created image and a hazy here-and-now. I don’t think that any invention has ever allowed people to live out a future-oriented mentality to the extent of the smart phone.
The self-created image is pretty commonly discussed. There are probably dozens of articles out there dealing with this issue. Thanks to social media outlets, even the most boring, creepy loser can make himself seem fun and interesting with the right filter or status updates. The loneliest, most insecure misfit can make herself seem bubbly and well-liked with a few well-timed group selfies and humorously self-deprecating “forever alone” posts. Everyone gets to be his or her own spin doctor. This is how catfishing happens, this is how pedophilia flourishes, this contributes to teen suicides that crop up so unexpectedly, this is how less social media-savvy people start to feel terrible about themselves. Real people hide behind the Elusive Carefree Cool Person. The saying still holds: your reputation precedes you. But in this case, your reputation exists on the social media accounts that you yourself monitor. I think that this is why realness and authenticity in real life are so rare – if I realize the funny thing I said in real life was really dumb, I can’t unsay it; but I can if I just post it on Facebook. Dumb jokes are endearing, and I hate that people have forgotten that.
That’s part of the reason I really don’t want a smart phone. I don’t want something that will make it easier for me to perpetuate the ideas I have of myself. It’s good to have healthy self-knowledge, and I think I do, but I also like seeing myself through other people’s eyes. I want people to make discoveries about me as they get to know me. I don’t want them to be confused because something that they’re learning to be true about me, face-to-face, contradicts something I portrayed myself as on an app or a website. Social media makes it easy to say that our biggest flaw is being awkward, or something safe like that. Oh, if only. I don’t want to be friends or lovers with someone who believes that that could be my biggest flaw, even on day one, because it’s not. I want to spend my time with people who come to see my faults, which I’m too ashamed to list here because they’re so much more destructive than “awkwardness,” and know how to call me out on them in constructive ways and help me be better. If you only know social media me, you can’t help me be better because social media me is one big, fat, overgrown ego who recoils at criticism and is enraged that anything about the image I created for myself is imperfect.
The other, bigger reason that I’ll stick to my slider phone is that I love that my here-and-nows are here-and-now. If I’m presented with something beautiful – a meal, a skyline, a sunset – I’ll remember it. If it was beautiful enough to share, I’ll tell someone in person, and the moment will be beautiful to them too because it has the stamp of my perceptions and it’s experienced through the cadence of my voice. It becomes a memory of the beauty that has passed and of our relationship that endures. I never want to run the risk of creating beautiful moments, I want them to happen to me; to thrill and surprise me and startle me with how suddenly they tumble down. Magic never gets lost in reminiscence. I like remembering things, and I like memorizing things. I had this professor(an older man, I’ll guess he’s around 70) who had almost every single Emily Dickinson poem memorized, not to mention whole paragraphs of dozens of other novels, whole chapters of scripture, and who knows what else. People who have so much committed to memory are becoming increasingly rare, which makes me sad.I want to have beauty like that in my brain. I don’t want to rely on a little box in my pocket to pull it up for me when I want it.
If I’m at the concert of my favorite band, I’m dancing to the music and enjoying a live experience (which, by the way, is the point of a concert). I’m not holding my phone up, creating an inferior version of a YouTube video that already exists and BLOCKING EVERYON’S DAMN LINE OF SIGHT. I’m just enjoying being there. I can’t help but think when I see people recording concerts on their phones, you’re never going to watch that. You’re only recording this so you can post it somewhere and make other people feel jealous that you were here and they weren’t. but in doing that, are you really here at all?
If I’m lost, I’ll find my way. I’ll ask someone or use my common sense. Or maybe I’ll just make sure to plan ahead (an important, often overlooked part of future-oriented living). Believe it or not, you can get lost in a city like Chicago and find your way without the use of a smart phone. People did that for centuries. I did it last month. You’ll be fine.
If I’m gone from home and I don’t know the answer to some piece of trivia, or a memory lapse is driving me crazy, I’ll just think about it for a while. I’ll enjoy the experience of wondering. Then, when I get home I can open my laptop and Google “when Britney Spears shaved her head” or “name of Freaks and Geeks actress” or “song that starts duh duh duhhhduhduh” or something equally life-altering and earth-shattering.
I like not having a smart phone. I like being able to just live my life and enjoy it without that little whisper always lurking behind me. I’m never looking for things to Instagram, never wondering if I should SnapChat something, never thinking about some stranger from Tinder, never looking up the solution to a problem before I’ve even given myself a chance to solve it. I am who I am, I am where I am. I don’t want to come off as preachy here because I’m definitely not saying that my way is the only way. Like I said, all my friends have smart phones, and i don’t think that they’re all self-obsessed, vacuous phonies.(I don’t hate smart phone users! Some of my closest friends are smart phone users!) I’m just saying that given the culture we’re already immersed in, they can really just jiggle the keys to a door that leads right down a slippery slope. And I think that, with so many things so easily accessible, not all of them constructive, it’s so important to take a step back and really consider the ways we spend our time on our phones and laptops. Are they replacing the time we should be spending with someone in person? Are we cyber-connecting with people more than actually connecting? Are we hiding behind a mask of falsity or anonymity to foster unhealthy or unkind interactions? Do we care more about perfecting our image than we do about becoming a better person? Are we letting the desire to broadcast and boast about our lives overshadow the plain and simple joy of just living? Reluctantly, I think a lot of us – even us dumb phone users – have to answer yes to a couple of those questions.
In the legendary words of Natasha Bedingfield, “Release your inhibitions, feel the rain on your skin. No one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in. No one else, no one else can speak the words on your lips. Drench yourself in words unspoken, live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.” I fully believe that. But let’s make it real, and together, and not something construed and constructed to glorify ourselves. The rain is fine the way it is; it doesn’t need a Valencia filter. Just enjoy it. Close your eyes and think about all the people who are already experiencing the sound of the drops, the fresh smell, and the sights of the misty afternoon without you ever touching a single button on your phone. Something doesn’t have to be posted or even acknowledged in order to be shared.