For years, I resisted getting a smart phone. Knowing my penchant for wasting time – the way I compulsively check my three email accounts and surf the web, searching for distraction –- I knew that the phone would be one more ‘to do’ that would take me out of the present moment. Finally last summer, I gave in and got an iPhone. Initially, my phone and I got along great; it was like a new relationship, and the phone was like a new boyfriend during the honeymoon period, in which annoying qualities are ignored or forgiven. I loved the look of the phone, the ease of checking my email and of texting my new (actual) boyfriend in Canada. The whole experience was, (to quote one of my New York friends), “off the hook.”
As time has gone by, I’ve come to see the shadow side of my relationship with my iPhone, to take the bitter with the sweet. My new phone, just like the old one, can be the bearer of bad news. When I see that my Mom is calling from Cleveland, I gird myself for the latest fall, flu, or other crisis. Fortunately, lately the problems have been small, mere bumps in the road. Still, the phone adds to my stress level, keeps me plugged in and on call. It becomes hard to disconnect, to simply walk down the street, wait for a plane or drive my car without being pulled into another call, and pulled out of the here and now.
I know I’m not the only one. Just the other day, as I was driving down Broadway in Somerville, I narrowly avoided a white sedan, whose driver was clearly more immersed in a phone conversation than he was on the mechanics of making a left turn into traffic. I cursed the driver out, self-righteously screaming obscene phrases, which made me feel better, though he was too busy to notice.
I was late to join the technology bandwagon, both because I’m cheap and didn’t want to spend extra money for a smart phone, and because I didn’t want to be one of those “damn cell phone people,” as I thought of them, yammering away and seemingly talking to themselves as they strode down the street, Bluetooth devices flashing in their ears.
Now I, like them, have gone over to the dark side, and I’m not sure I like it. I know others –- several friends come to mind –- who manage their phones and on line communications with the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. Several limit their email communication to small blocks of time, and turn off or silence their phones when they’re immersed in various projects or simply want to be left alone. It seems to come down to discipline, willpower, and the ability to prioritize, areas in which I am weak and flabby, from the lack of exercising my will.
I find it hard to ignore the phone’s siren call, the eye-catching graphics, and the promise of escape from my (insert one from Column A): restlessness, loneliness, depression or B): boredom, inertia or general malaise, which keeps me coming back for more. Still, the phone whispers seductively in my ear, offering a promise of connection. When I’m lonely, passing through a strange city like New York, or a familiar haunt like Davis Square, I can turn on my 3G network and scroll through Facebook, to discover what my ‘friends’ (many of whom I’ve never met) are up to, can pretend that I care about them and that they care about my latest mundane update. I can sit alone in a restaurant, and instead of feeling the discomfort of being alone, and my self-consciousness as I look around at the couples and groups clustered around me, I simply plug in and zone out.
Now that the bloom is off the rose and my iPhone romance has cooled off, I’m left with mixed feelings about carrying my cell. I like the convenience, the ease of having the world at my fingertips. But I fear my own obsessions, my neurotic need to check that email over and over again, in case Mr. Right suddenly careens my way through some random event, like a penguin that strolls ashore in Miami.
I’m not likely to give up my new phone, swear off email, or abandon my laptop. Instead I must find a balance, a fine line between my desire for connection with my various devices and my need for at least a few peaceful moments, when I’m simply in the present moment, body and mind united in the same place.