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"You're Never Alone With a Phone"

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Wildly Exaggerated: "You're Never Alone With a Phone"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"You're Never Alone With a Phone"

Thus spake Mark Corrigan on an episode of Peep Show.  Nine times out of ten, I agree with Mark's pithy little phrases, but this time, he's way way WAY off. In my experience, he would've been better off saying something like "only the phone-ly" or "all by my cell-f". (Give me a break, it's late.)

I remember when text messaging first caught on. I bought myself an adorable little Sony Ericsson phone. It was pricey (compared to my previous phones, all of which had been free), but I didn't care because it was an investment. This wasn't just a phone! This was THE phone! The phone that would someday ring with the call that would change my life! My soulmate would call me on this phone! A major record label would call to offer me a contract on this phone! It had to be good, because it was going to be the conduit for SO MUCH amazing, life-changing, wonderful information! And when you factor in text messages, it would also be the hub of my incredibly active social life, with friends always calling and texting, wanting to hang out with me.

Yessir. I had high hopes for that phone.

In reality, of course, the only guy who called me on that phone turned out to be a douche. Not a single record label, major or otherwise, rang me up. I had so few friends that eventually I signed up for AT&T's daily horoscope service just to see what it was like to receive a text. Times were hard. The funny thing is that my life wasn't any different than it had been before; it sucked exactly as much as - but no more than - it had previously sucked. I had the same friends, did the same things. But somehow my previously satisfactory life had become an empty shell of an existence, and I had become a boring, useless pile of crap.

Madison Avenue bears some of the blame for this, of course. I mean, cell phone commercials are ridiculous, and they always have been. Invariably there's some model-handsome guy, standing in the middle of some HUGELY trendy city (usually Tokyo), at night, under a bunch of crazy neon lights. The gorgeous woman he's with moves a few feet away to pose so he can take a picture of her with friendly siberian tiger that has just finished crossing the street. Then the three of them decide they could really go for some sushi, so he looks up restaurant ratings and directions on his phone, but while he's doing that five people call and two leave voicemails and he gets twenty-five text messages from movie stars and one of the voicemails is from his boss so he has to pause for five seconds to design an entire Keynote presentation on his phone which he then sends back to the office in New York just in time for the alarm which tells him it's time for him and his girlfriend to board their private Concorde where he sits and listens to music that he downloaded to the phone while setting a new high score for Angry Birds.


It's hard to see a commercial where a phone does all of that only to buy one for yourself and watch it sit, silent and motionless, on your bedside table for four years. Every second that phone does not spend ringing and vibrating and bursting with incoming messages is a moment it sits in silent dismay, judging you and your entire social life to be tremendously inadequate. There are times when you could swear you hear it doing a big exaggerated sigh. I wish I could've made the Real Life Sony Ericsson phone ad. It would've consisted of me (then an unemployed 20-something in her parents' basement), sitting in bed next to an open bag of Cheetos watching Adult Swim all night long, occasionally picking up the phone, looking at it, then putting it back down. Cue single, lonely tear.

I hated those feelings of inadequacy, but today I'm grateful for them. If I hadn't spent so many lonely nights trying to wipe my salty orange thumbprints off that phone's keyboard, I would never have survived the endless parade of horrors that the iPhone has brought into my life.

I got my iPhone in February of 2010. I had been dumped almost exactly a month before, so naturally I was in a hyper-optimistic phase, meaning I shelled out for the best model they had at the time. Why? Because this was the phone that would someday ring with the call that would change my life! My soulmate would call me on this phone! A major record label would call to offer me a contract on this phone! It had to be good, because it was going to be the conduit for SO MUCH amazing, life-changing, wonderful information!

Granted, I have my own place now. And I have far more friends than I had back in the day. But just as I have managed to carve out something like a life for myself, the advances in phone technology have stayed one step ahead of my feeble attempts at personhood, and managed to leave me once again wishing the stupid thing had never been invented. The phone still doesn't ring, except when I owe the Red Cross a pint of blood. I do get the occasional text, but I'm not exactly struggling to keep pace with all the correspondence. And now I am not only being judged as boring and inadequate by every call and text I DON'T receive, but I'm also being pointedly ignored by four email accounts, the whole of Facebook, most of Twitter, the better part of G+, and, apparently, Bump. The iPhone sits at my side, day in, day out, staring me down and saying, "There is no one - IN THE WORLD - who wants to speak to you. No one has seen something funny that made them think of you. No one wants to tell you something. No one wants to declare their undying love. No one even wants to send you a spam email."

As if this weren't bad enough, I finally got talked into subjecting myself to The Final Insult tonight: I got the Find My Friends app, or as I like to call it, "DELETE THIS APP IMMEDIATELY". Here's how it works:
1. You request to follow your friend.
2. Assuming your friend grants your request, they may also request to follow you.
3. This is not like "following" on Facebook or Twitter; whoever you allow into your little circle of friends will have access to your phone's exact GPS location at all times, unless you disable the feature.
4. When you look up your friend's location, Find My Friends shows you a little Google Map with a dot indicating his or her position. It also offers you the option to message the friend in question or get directions to where they are. Curiously, it does not provide a one-click connection to a suicide hotline. That's a pretty massive oversight, if you ask me.

My initial concern was that this was a little too invasive, but you can stop the phone from transmitting pretty easily, so I figured what the heck! I hadn't counted on the real evil here, and it's not stalking. Stalking is the least of your problems with this app. The problem is that now my phone is not only capable of judging me in its silence, but it can also actively tell me what a total reject I am. See, once I installed the app and hooked up with a few friends, I played around with checking their locations to see how specific the thing could be (answer: VERY SPECIFIC). But then I said the most fateful words I've said in weeks: "Hm. I wonder what [name] is doing at [place]. Weird." I say these words were fateful because they piqued my curiosity and led me to check in again about thirty minutes later, only to find that [name] had subsequently gone to another [place], this one even more fun and exciting than the last! I should point out that by this time (10:30) I was already snuggled up in bed with so much anti-aging cream on my face I'm surprised all the wine in my stomach didn't transform back into grapes. As [name] continued his or her tireless fluttering from one awesome destination to another, I became increasingly depressed at my depressingly depressing existence. Even if it had occurred to me to go somewhere fun at 10:30 on a Monday night, I wouldn't have been able to because I have work in the morning! And even if I hadn't had work in the morning, who would've gone with me? Probably one of the many people who are always blowing up my phone to hang out. OH WAIT.

And as the sheer magnitude of my patheticism settled on my shoulders with a great big WHUMP, I was further alarmed to realize that someday - mark my words - I am going to open that damn app to find that a BUNCH of my friends are all out doing something fun together...without me. Sigh.

I yearn for the days when I could've sat blissfully in bed at 10:30 on a Monday night feeling smug about how incredibly youthful my Blood of Virgins Anti-Aging Cream would make me look, enjoying my soft, warm mattress, feeling perfectly OK with myself and my life. I wish I could go back to a time when I could be the most boring person in my entire circle of friends without having to be constantly reminded of that fact. But no. I'm stuck in the 21st century, stuck with my iPhone, and stuck with a 24-hour news stream that simply says "NO ONE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU". At least until they invent an iPhone my cat can use.

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