Smartphone Asshole, or Efficient Gatherer of Crowd-Pleasing Facts?

Up until May, I enjoyed straining my personal and business relationships by conducting all of my affairs from a flip phone. I made this choice for several reasons: I wanted to keep the Internet off my back when I was in the real world; I liked the non-stop flipping action; I was locked into the world’s shittiest phone contract; and I could use my phone to shock people, particularly fresh-off-the-boat millennials, like my English language students.

“Welcome to America.” I could say and then pause and pretend to painstakingly text someone.

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Some dumplings I made before I had a smartphone.

There was nothing “addictive” about my flip phone, other than the satisfying coconut shell sound of it snapping shut, and I knew no one would ever rough me up on campus to rip it out of my hand (unless as a hate crime against flip phones).

Texting took an eternity and bred lavish errors/misunderstandings as I didn’t know where to find the exclamation points or emoticons. But that was okay, because this allowed me to always shift the blame to my flip phone if I said something socially awkward or disturbing or weird. Such as:

I hv all beef France at my house, Do you hv any buns

Whats the guys name again, Justin Beaver?

Using technlgy 2 edit human genome re: heart disease = a really gd idea

In more convoluted situations, instead of texting back, I would call, which really threw people into a tailspin.

Some people acted as if in not keeping pace with human tools, I was crimping the forward momentum style of civilization, breaking some kind of social contract that none of us ever really signed on for. Others simply objected to the musical “ding ding DING ding” tones of my texting, because it was hard to turn off the keyboard sounds. They asked, what was I doing over there, playing a game? And I said that I wished my phone had a game. And then we’d both kind of laugh. (But my laugh was more hearty.)

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My coworkers enjoy listening to me text

That’s how I liked it. My texting sounded musical and magical. I was free from the shackles of instant information and overly-porous boundaries between my thoughts and other people’s need to ask me for muffin recipes while I’m having those thoughts. I could discover things for myself, and regale people about an awful restaurant I stumbled upon, instead of always looking for the top-rated “best experience.”

I basked in my ignorance of the overly-mapped, overly-analyzed world like it was the Corsican sun and announced to roomfuls of smartphone users that I was sorry I was late, but I had gotten lost, AGAIN. “This is how we do,” I told my friends, trying (and succeeding?) to sound hip.

Suffice it to say, that no one was as besotted by my flip phone, and everything it stood for (freedom, ignorance, self-reliance, contract entrapment), more than me.

My friend Paul understood because he acquired his first smartphone the same time I got mine. In the beginning, we joked about smudging our new phones (with smudge sticks that neither of us actually had) and he said how he hoped that we weren’t going to become “smartphone assholes.”

“That will NEVER happen to me,” I said.

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Paul held out for a really long time, and he’s rewarding himself with a seltzer water

I ensured it wouldn’t happen to me by refusing to download the Facebook app or my gmail notifications. I vowed to never look at the GPS while driving, only before I left the house. I even considered downloading this make-your-keyboard-function-like-a-typewriter app to make typing even more difficult than it was on my flip phone (Over-The-Top is not touchscreen compatible).

I was doing pretty good at being a happy-go-lucky, smartphone dolt until mid-June when I found myself on an island in the Puget Sound without a car, trying to beat the crowds to a sheepdog show. (I think you see where this is going.)

Google Maps pulled up a walking route, the BEST, most crow-flying-est route, a good mile shorter than the second best route. The satellite view allowed me to see where exactly I should cut left on a dirt path (around a rectangular barn thingy).

It’s true, Maps threw up a few barely noticeable hazard signs that I would be crossing private property, but the signs were minuscule, and why would friendly, helpful Google lead me into peril, so I was like, “Who cares? Let’s see some mother’n sheepherding, motherf’rs!” And I followed that map exactly where it took me.

Some time later, as I was being hemmed against a fence by murderous angus cattle, after I had escaped the barking dogs, and given up on finding an open gate through the security walls of the mega-estate of  Misty Isle Farms, I decided I actually did care.

It was while I was planning an escape route over the fence and cow-whispering for my life, and thinking about all of the tall, ginger-haired people who were going to beat me to the sheepdog show and set up their lawn chairs right in front of me if I survived – it was then that I thought: “I AM a smartphone asshole.”

But when I had backed away without incident from the cattle, the panic subsided, and it was not shame I felt, but chilling, successive waves of great and unspeakable power. I had never gotten lost with such technological élan before.

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A picture I took on my smartphone

I filed this away and reverted to temperate and responsible smartphone use until last week when it happened again. I was talking with some friends about the draconian atmosphere of working at Disney World, as relayed by my cousin, a former intern at the Animal Kingdom. But I couldn’t remember any of the rules.

This made me feel dull and distraught, so I texted my cousin. By the time she responded, I had ignored half the conversation bumbling around on my phone (at Disney you can only point with two fingers or your whole hand, not one finger. At Disney you are not allowed to tell anyone that anything at Disney is “not real”).

“I’m a smartphone asshole,” I thought later. But then I wondered: Was I a “smartphone asshole” or “an efficient gatherer of crowd-pleasing facts?”

I’m still not sure. It seems like the more knowledge my smartphone feeds me, the less I actually understand of myself and the world around me. The wider the spray of information, the less anything gels. It seems like while my smartphone has saved me from some scrapes, it has air-dropped me right in the thick of others. Which brings me back to that classic quote from Tristram Shandy:

“Intricate are the troubles which the pursuit of this bewitching phantom KNOWLEDGE will bring upon thee.”

And what about Paul? Had he escaped being made into a total d-bag by his smartphone? He is a professional contemplative after all.

“I really enjoy the convenience it offers,” is all he said.

l thought that would be a good campaign slogan for the Smartphone Asshole Resistance movement. We Are Enjoying the Convenience It Offers. Or maybe just: Enjoy the Convenience. Or: Try to Enjoy the Convenience a Little Bit.  

If you have tricks to guard against enjoying the convenience too much, please let me know.

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