Thursday, November 10, 2011

Phonely No More

Recognizing that no story of any interest ever started with “I recently bought a new phone”, here goes.
I recently bought a new phone.  My trusty two year old iPhone 3G had been sputtering along, not reacting quickly to my every request and needing to be charged at every turn.  I was truly surprised it had held up as long as it did as that phone was constantly in use for our entire relationship.  I used it for emailing, texting, research, writing, rewriting, and until I was recently given an iPod Shuffle, I used the iPod function while I was running or just killing time on the El train.  Okay, sure, this sounds like what everyone does with their phone….precisely when does this become interesting?

As soon as iPhone 3 started to show signs of biting the dust, I focused on getting the latest and greatest iPhone.  My phone limped along through the summer as everyone said the iPhone 5 would be announced in October….no iPhone 5, but what about the iPhone 4S?  It was touted to be a jillion times faster and featured Siri, some sort of voice operated assistant function that might actually live my life for me when I’m not interested.  Sounds great.  Of course getting a new iPhone 4S, at least in Chicago, proved to be a challenge, especially since I put very little effort into jumping through hoops to get it.  I figured I’d waited this long for a new phone….I’d wait for the hype to die down and get one when everyone was done clamoring over it.  Who cares if I was the asshole plugging my phone in at random coffee shops just to get through the day?  I would have the new phone, some day, some way.

I was on the El last week, catching up with online blather, when I came across my friend Colleen’s blog.  She had written a story about a chance encounter with someone she met at the Double Down Saloon in Las Vegas.  Colleen had gone in to kill some time and try a bacon martini when she was approached by a young woman out of the blue; they struck up a conversation and had a compelling connection.  As I read the story, I recognized that it was of special interest to me as I am immensely attracted to tales of alliances between strangers, to the point that is a thematic obsession.  Some of my most cherished songs, movies, and books revolve around this; when I started writing, it became a recurring motif.  Perhaps because there are no strangers, there are only people you haven’t met yet, and those people can change the way you think in important and meaningful ways, even if your relationship is very short.  While this was sinking in, I looked around and took in the faces of those surrounding me, people I hadn’t taken any time to notice because I was completely consumed with my phone, which is a pretty typical scenario for me.

It wasn’t always this way.  I thought about the first cell phone I had when I started my job back in 2001….it was slightly smaller than a brick and it MADE AND RECEIVED PHONE CALLS.  That’s it.  I would fire it up at the end of my work day, check my messages, return calls, and turn it off.  Every new phone came with more features whether I wanted them or not (I still remember telling the salesman at the Sprint store, “I don’t need a camera!” to which he replied, “You can’t get a phone without one!”), and I’ll admit that texting and emailing on a handheld device has made simple communication more convenient.  As someone who is away from home for work, I have come to rely on the phone to keep me in contact with life in Chicago while I’m working and with others who I don’t see often for a variety of reasons, distance, work schedules, etc.  But at some point, I started using it not only to stay connected to my important people, but to dissociate myself with the here and now.  My job (just like yours, possibly) involves people saying and doing things I’d rather not see or witness or absorb, and sometimes I prefer to climb into a comfortable internet rabbit hole instead of acknowledging what’s going on around me.  But when I do this, I’m denying myself two very important opportunities….opening my eyes to the people around me and accepting whatever magical, offensive, or truly banal events may occur, or if I need to check out of reality, I really should be day dreaming.  It’s completely acceptable to be lost in one’s thoughts in the middle of it all, in fact, it is probably when we are our most creative.  With that in mind, I went to the AT&T store and bought a basic iPhone with a quarter the storage of my old one.  It makes and receives calls and texts and emails and holds 1,000ish songs, which is more than I need to revert to my old philosophy of checking in with the electronic world on occasion, responding, and returning my focus back to the present. When I make a decision that involves choosing relationships and experiences over shiny material stuff, it brings me happiness, another recurring theme here in the blogosphere.

I could have come to this realization sooner if I’d listened to a scruffy, Hawaiian shirt clad, heavily medicated, quite possibly crazy guy on the El a few months back.  I was texting a friend and listening to music while taking the orange line home after going out for dinner.  When we arrived at the end of the line, he yelled in my face, “I don’t know who you’ve been texting this whole ride, but I’ve been trying to get your attention.  I’M A REAL PERSON WHO’S RIGHT HERE!”  I laughed and agreed with him, but he continued to cuss me out.   He definitely gets points off for his technique, but I’ll be damned if that loony dude wasn’t on to something.  Sometimes people are telling you everything you really need to know, you just need to make sure you’re able to listen.

NaNoWriMo idea scrapped, but there are some new writing developments in the works.  And it's snowing here in Chicago!  And thus begins the season of hunkering down at the keyboard....

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