I remember well the first time, four or five years ago, when I sat down at a restaurant table with three friends and soon noticed I was the only one whose place setting didn't include a smartphone.
I also noticed what seemed to me like a more animated, expectant, even nervous manner among my tablemates than I was accustomed to.Their eyes in particular were more active, darting in a continuous cycle from face to food to phone, always returning to phone, more a Home to many people these days than anything brick-and-mortar.
Until that fateful meal, I had thought of what I then called cellphones as pretentious gadgets for people with an exaggerated sense of their own importance. What I failed to grasp, then and for a long time after, was that cellphones/smartphones, social media and all the other products and tangible/observable effects of digital technologies are not the real story. The real story is the transformative impact of these technologies, products and effects on individuals, institutions and culture.
But of course the principal transformative impact I was concerned about was the impact on me. Particularly after my wife got an I-Phone and I was able not just to witness but to experience firsthand --- and appreciate! --- the benefits of 24/7 accessibility. With a cellphone, I realized, and even more with a smart one, all kinds of things were possible now that weren't possible before.
I was tempted; no question about it. I could feel myself laying some of the mental foundation for an affirmative decision. I pictured myself on the ferry, sitting back with my device and confronting all those apps, all that connectivity, everything in the immediate now. I imagined how cool it would be to hold up my smartphone so the Starbucks cash register could read it and deduct the appropriate amount from my debit account (I don't have a smartphone OR a debit card).
Still, I had misgivings. My older son Evan's counsel echoed in my head: "Once you get one, Dad, there's no going back." The memory of my first Meal With Smartphones kept resurfacing darkly as well. And then, right on cue, my knee-jerk nonconformism kicked in: Did I really want to join the ranks of those who, at any time and in every place, can be found staring down into the face of some digital device?
THIS FAR AND NO FARTHER
Which gets down to the real issue for me. The total-immersion-ness of smartphones. The idea that with this device, where everything you could possibly want or need is centralized and accessible, you've got it under control. When, in fact, it's got you under control. Or so it seems to me.
That's what I keep coming back to. My discomfort at the total surrender this device requires --- including walking around with a tracking device on your person, 24/7. And something more as well: my real fear of becoming addicted to the device and the withdrawal and isolation that addiction might prompt.
My office desktop and my laptop in the kitchen (which also has a cable TV connection) are already a kind of smartphone, without the phone, I guess; and I'm certainly fully addicted to those. For now, that's enough. This far and no farther. ###