The woman behind the reception desk at the doctor’s office glanced at the short stack sitting on the counter between us as I filled out paperwork.
“You must be an important person,” she observed, so incorrectly. “Two iPhones!”
After the echo of my inappropriately loud guffaw died down, I sheepishly admitted that, silly as it is, I carry two of the darn things with me wherever I go during the work day: one to ensure I don’t miss any calls or crucial emails from my editors or contacts, the other to see that I don’t miss out on domestic crises or any other particulars of the rest of my life.
Yes, this is goofy, not to mention a tiny bit pathetic. I’m of a certain age, as are a few others among us, that recalls an era when it was possible to live our lives away from telephones. Now I’m attached at the hip to two of the damned things for most of my waking hours.
But the truth is that today we do things a whole lot differently from how we used to — almost everything.
Here in Naperville, there’s a whole lot you can do with that little wizard that nestles into your palm. You can pay your electric bill, book a table at that new eatery on the north end, pass along get-well wishes to your cousin George, cast a vote in an online poll (Fries or tots? You decide!!), make a dentist appointment, watch last week’s episode of “Downton Abbey,” officially “like” that photo of a maternally inclined hippo on Facebook, move a few bucks from savings to checking, and film your awesome garbage guys being heroic with the trash bin that got wedged into the concrete-like snowbank — all without budging from that chair by the window. Heck, you can even use the thing to call somebody.
Those of us disinclined to squint can, of course, see to those tasks on a tablet, the large-print version of our phones. Except the phone call part.
Here at the newspaper, we’re using our phones to build networks, gather information, film videos, snap photos of spot news, interview people, Tweet, confirm spellings and fact-check, among other things. They’re good for checking email, too.
This is indeed a device-ive age in which we live. Like most phenomena, that means good news and bad news.
Chances are you’ve noticed it, too — that way we’ve assumed a collective posture as we wait for the train or the pedestrian walk light or the elevator. It’s that slight curve of the neck, that downward gaze, the bent elbow. Sometimes as you scan a crowd, it appears we’re mimicking each other. And we’re not talking.
That’s the criticism, that our device obsession has isolated us from one another, made a severe dent in that thing we call interpersonal interaction. It’s a valid point. There’s really no valid substitute for human contact.
But there’s also the argument that if we’re using our devices to summon friends to a meeting place, or to express support for them as they face a struggle, or even to lend our approval to the stunning photo they just put on Instagram, we are in fact lifting each other up and bolstering relationships via this new form of contact that does so much in so little space.
It seems the jury is still out.
Still, two iPhones. Really? As if that weren’t reason enough to be overwhelmed with chagrin, I also learned recently that each of my iPhones uses more energy than a refrigerator. It must be true, because I saw it online.
This is a painful epiphany for one with a penchant for embracing the nearest tree. And they don’t even have a decent crisper. Maybe they do, actually; we’re not kidding when we call the things smart phones. Either way, I’m glad I don’t have to pay that utility bill. That one, like pretty much everything else we pay — whether it’s by the write, rip, stuff, stamp, lick and seal method, or the uber-streamlined tap or two — is going up.
These are goofy and, yes, device-ive times. There’s little question about that.