The phone lay smashed on the road. I stood there staring at the innards. Its back had been sheared off to reveal its guts. Eviscerated. I found myself paralyzed. Knowing, of course, this thing wasn’t alive but still not wanting to touch it, I flipped it over with my foot, knowing what I’d find but still curious. Aargh! A smashed screen. Why was I shocked to see it? As if it were a face that had been morbidly deformed in an accident. What had brought about the demise of this creature? Had someone run it over with the car? Was it intentional or accidental? No matter. Did you pick it up? my family asked later. No, I didn’t pick it up, I replied. As if it were an absurd notion. If I’d shaken myself out of my reverie, I would have remembered that in reality, it was just a piece of garbage, but at that moment, staring at it in the road, it was a living thing–or had been living. And why? Because as much as we would deny it, or, at the very least, hate to admit it, we pour our lives into these gadgets and we draw our lives out of them. When we forget our phones, we feel naked, incomplete, as if we’d lost a limb.
Our centers of communication, they help us notate, schedule, calculate, monitor, search and surf for information, music, whatever—the world in our pocket, at our fingertips. FaceBooking, texting, snapping photos of anything we find even slightly amusing to post, paste, send, and share, share, share with the world. Constantly. Day and night. In them, we carry around a portable alarm clock, stop watch, timer. It seems like such a short time ago since they came into existence, and yet now they are ubiquitous. You have a smartphone, right? we ask as if to say, you have a pulse, right? Even children have them.
They consume us. Look at the way we drop our heads, curve our backs, grasp the miniature centers of our world like my precious, my precious and tap-tap-tap with fingers and thumbs, curling ourselves around them, like a caterpillar curling itself around the leaf it’s munching on. It drawing our attention, we drawing our sustenance from it. And, like bugs, walk right into the trap, the Inter-Net. No one drags us. We do so willingly.
In the 1990s, (the not-so-distant past) you could tell what people were doing by which tool they were using. We had a desktop home computer that indeed sat on the desktop and it was indeed at home. And it stayed there. We turned it off when we were done. Then we did something else. The TV sat by itself in the living room. We turned it on when we wanted to watch a show. We turned it off when we were done. The telephone sat on a table. We used it to call someone. We hung it up when we were done and walked away. Today it’s not always easy to tell what people are doing. Texting is obvious– pecking away at the screen like a caffeinated squirrel. However, with the the one-thumb-scroll, a person can be surfing the internet or browsing emails or ordering plane tickets. Then they stare at the screen. Are they reading, watching a movie, or checking out the latest viral YouTube video? Today the phone is always on, always in the pocket, always available for whatever whim we let sweep us away. There is no walking away from it. Be honest. Who turns their phone off at night? Those two people raising your hands—that precious phone is on your nightstand, isn’t it?
We are attached to our phones. They have become appendages. So when I saw the phone in the road completely demolished, I couldn’t help but mourn someone’s loss. They had spent many hours and much energy sending and receiving bits of life on the information superhighway via that little hand-held device. Kinda scary that so much of someone’s precious life can be held in a palm. But it reminded me that I have a choice. I have the power to choose where to pour my life, how to spend my time. I can invest it in social networking or in the actual human beings sitting beside me in the same room. I can choose to consume images and ideas from a screen or I can gaze at sunsets and into the sparkling eyes of my children and my husband. Phones are fragile things. But so is life. I looked up from the broken phone in the road, the electronic carcass, and saw the trees rising tall above me, felt the sun warm on my face, heard the originators of the tweet—the birds—singing sweetly. I don’t need buttons and passwords and charger cords to enjoy the beauty around me. I can keep walking. Hands free.