One year ago, my husband and I bought ourselves iPhones for Christmas. I had been lobbying for months to get one. My previous cell phone was just that: a straight-up phone, with a rudimentary camera and a numeric keypad. I was constantly worried about running home to my PC to check my emails. When my clunky old flip phone began to unpredictably drop calls and turn its volume off, it was time for an upgrade.
Fast forward one year. On Christmas Eve of 2010, our family drove from the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California on Interstate 5, a straight wide highway, full of family SUVs tailgaiting semi-trucks. There is nothing but broad open farmland, save for the California aquaduct and the giant Harris Ranch cattle farm. We made no pretense of doing a road trip the "right way", with car games and Mad Libs and local color pitstops at Mom and Pop diners. This was a fast and furious trip to grandma's house. While the kids watched back to back Clone Wars DVDs in the backseat, I entertained myself by checking the internet on my iPhone and taking pictures with the Hipstamatic app, which makes a brand new digital photo look like a yellowed Kodak print from the 70s. When we needed to find a fast food joint for a quick lunch, there was an app for that. As we climbed the Grapevine (So Cal-speak for the mountain pass separating the Central Valley from the LA Basin) my husband used one of the numerous traffic apps to find the least congested route through the maze of Los Angeles freeways.
Then, somewhere south of downtown LA, it happened. My phone failed to start up, instead flashing either the black "Apple of death" screen or an ominous icon indicating that I should plug the phone into a computer to restore its programs. After numerous foul-mouthed attempts to reboot the thing so we could navigate our way through traffic, it was apparent the device would not revive. I quickly snatched my husband's phone back from our Angry Birds playing son, and we became reliant on that device alone.
Upon arrival at Grandma's house, I tried to restore the phone. The directions were easy enough, but after watching it try to sync itself for hours, things looked grim. I even considered braving the Christmas Eve crowds at the nearest mall to bring the dying phone to the Genius Bar at the Apple store.
Really, you can't live a day without the darn gadget? a voice inside me challenged. You-- the advocate of all things low-tech and the non-commercial celebration of the holiday-- you want to go to the mall on this supposedly holy evening to fix your broken toy?
The demon and angel on my shoulders argued silently all night, and while waiting for the kids to fall asleep so I could stuff their stockings, I snuck off to the computer to check the website for the nearest Apple store. Standing in line with all the new iPad owners on the morning after Christmas did not sound like fun for me, either, but there was an appointment available early the morning of the 26th.
"What do you need your cell phone for?" my nearly 70-year old mother-in-law asked. "You can use our house phone."
Phone? I hardly use the thing to make calls. Just one year ago, I lived my life just fine, blissfully unaware of the pleasures of the smartphone. It is like my little computer: I check Facebook, Open Salon, as well as a dozen or so other websites I follow. The phone numbers and emails of my friends and business contacts are stored on my phone. I had intended to upload my Hisptamatic photo gallery to my blog, as if anyone was dying to see the shots of our common roadtrip. I wanted to go for a run, and was relying on the music and timed cues from the Couch to 5K app to keep me motivated. None of these activities were things that would really affect my life, and I could do almost all of them from a PC anyway. What the iPhone afforded me was the ability to distract myself without really having to make the conscious intention of doing so -- during a long car ride or during a lull in a conversation.
Instead of visions of sugarplums that night, I awoke to a nightmare: my eight-year old son had failed to show up at an afterschool program to which he was supposed to walk by himself. Even in my subconscious state, my phone was in disrepair. I had no way to call around to see if anyone had seen him, and I was stuck in a monorail with a dying woman (this is a nightmare after all), on my way to search for him.
Christmas morning was spent opening presents and watching my children play with their new Bionicles. I checked Facebook once or twice (on the computer in another room) and looked on enviously, as my husband played Words with Friends while sitting on the couch. Then I spent the rest of the day reading Wolf Hall, helping to cook the roast beef dinner, and watching a movie with my family.
Early the morning of the 26th, I did drive to the mall, which was relatively uncrowded save for the Apple store, which was predictably filled with folks unboxing their new iPads and laptops. "Nine times out of ten, we can fix the problem," the beanie-wearing tech support guy told me. But even the genius at the bar couldn't figure out what was wrong with my phone. My warranty had expired almost a year to the day. Luckily, they offered to honor it and I walked out with a new replacement phone.
Have I learned how dependent I am on this phone? Yes. Am I going to change my ways? Probably not. It was an revealing experience that showed just how much I rely on a device no bigger than a deck of cards. But it's not just me, it's the way the world has changed in just the last year, and I better learn to change with it.(c) 2010 Grace Hwang Lynch