I lost my smartphone the other day, and I almost lost my mind along with it. When I initially discovered that it was missing – from that sacred space in my back pants pocket where I keep it and a folded handkerchief – I went absolutely bonkers. I, who once could not understand a man whom I had overheard crying and complaining to a cashier in a department store about losing his phone, now completely understood the look of terror visible on his face and the fear that must have been in his heart.
I don’t know if that poor fellow ever found his phone, but I do remember the last words I heard him saying as I walked onto the elevator – “Please, you have to help me; my whole world is on that phone!” Those words inspired a little smirk to myself in the elevator mirror, but now I realized that my lack of empathy for that guy came from not having yet crossed over to the dark side of cellular phones.
Alas, that was then and this was hell. I had taken a walk in the park and sat and watched the geese in the pond. I then went to the drugstore to get a few things. My usual procedure in the car is to keep the phone in my pocket because I can answer it hands-free, and this is, of course, the safest way to drive. When I put the bags containing my purchases into the trunk, two iced tea bottles fell out of the bag onto the ground, with one rolling under my car. I got down on my knees in the parking lot, squeezed under the car, and managed to retrieve the bottle.
When I got home and was putting my purchases away, the landline in the living room began to ring. By the time I got to it the answering machine had picked up, and I realized that it was yet another robocall. I went back into the kitchen after this distraction to finish putting things away, and I reached for the phone in my back pocket to check my messages only to find it flat and empty – the phone was gone. I tried not to get excited at first, immediately looking around the kitchen and asking myself, “Did I put it down somewhere?”
After futilely checking the shopping bags, my other pants pockets, and my coat pockets, I thought about when I last used the phone – sitting in the park to take a picture of the geese. I surmised that my beloved communication device could be anywhere between there, the store, and my front door.
I took several deep breaths to try to calm myself, slipped on my coat, and went out the front door. I looked on the ground along the path to the driveway and saw nothing. Inside the car I checked the seat, under the seat, and on the floor and did not find the phone.
The drive to the store is approximately five minutes, and during this time I started thinking about everything stored in my phone. Indeed, just as that distraught fellow in the department store noted years before, my whole world was on that phone – all my contacts’ phone numbers, emails, and street addresses as well as all my text messages and favorite apps. Most of all there were the photos – probably in the thousands at this point – that I was always meaning to save to a flash drive and print but never got around to it.
Stopping at a red light I felt my hands sweating as I gripped the steering wheel and looked at myself in the rear view, thinking, “Where’s the snarky little smirk now, dumbass?”
I parked my car outside the store in a spot that was next to the one where I had parked before, now occupied by an enormous flatbed truck. If my phone had been on the ground there it would have been a goner, but I still looked around and under the truck to no avail. I tracked my steps back inside the store, walked up and down the aisles, and found nothing. I went up to the busy cashier and asked if anyone had found a phone, and she shook her head and said, “Sorry!”
I went back outside, got into the car, and drove to the park. It was an overcast day with a little mist in the air, so the park was relatively empty. I traced my steps up and down the pathways and made my way to the bench where I had been sitting. I kept seeing the phone falling out of my pocket onto the pathway somewhere, but there were no signs of it anywhere.
I sat on the bench thoroughly exhausted – not from the searching but from the emotional upheaval I was experiencing. Oh, the lost photos on that phone were too much to bear – France, Italy, Niagara Falls, Rhode Island, two weddings, and worst of all my son’s first communion and my daughter’s sweet sixteen. All were gone now into some void, some vast gulf separating real life from the virtual one that we have all now tacitly accepted, just like sheep herding into an electronic meadow of doom.
Sitting there on that bench I understood that we are all responsible for this situation. We bought into the need for these smartphones because everyone wanted to have one, and then social media came along to reinforce that life without their sites was empty and vacuous and lonely, and we accepted the notion that we didn’t have to just keep up with the Kardashians but every other household on the planet.
The magic little device in our fingers dazzled our eyes and rushed electronic moonbeams through our arms up into our souls. We had become quantified and qualified by the type of device we wielded, like warriors being known by a signature weapon. There were no downsides because it was all upsides – proving Marshall McLuhan right – the medium is the message, and in this world of ours now it is all about reaching everyone and knowing everything, like even our exact location on social media maps where there is no longer privacy and just an illusion of inter-connectivity. We are never alone and yet more lonely than ever, and how far we have come that we can be found but also forever lost?
I got up and started a slow walk back to the car. Nothing seemed to matter now. I would have to report my lost phone to all the necessary people, make the sad trip to the store to purchase a new one, and face the fact that everything on that phone was lost to me now.
When I walked into the house my kids were laughing, and I asked, “What’s so funny?”
My daughter handed my phone and handkerchief to me and said, “You left these in the refrigerator, Dad.”
I stared at that phone in her hand, wanting to be giddy as a school boy on the last day of the semester, but I feared I was more like a man lost in a desert, staring a mirage of an oasis. I blurted out, “My phone!” grabbing it from her and feeling the cold lingering on its surface from its refrigerator entombment.
Closing my eyes, I remembered what had happened – the dropped iced tea bottles had been dirty from falling on the ground. I had reached into my back pocket to remove my phone and the handkerchief that shares that space with it, intending to clean off the bottles before placing them in the fridge. When the landline rang, I must have put my phone down on the refrigerator shelf as I rushed to the living room, not realizing I had left the phone inside when I shut the door.
I went upstairs immediately and began the process of saving my photos to a flash drive. As I sat there and watched precious images flowing across the screen into safe keeping, I wanted to believe that I had turned a corner. I was no longer going to depend on this little device to be my keeper. It was too in control of my behavior – everything from communication, finance, and precious memories was housed on it.
After spending a few hours transferring all my photos, I took a break and went to the window. I felt a buzz in my pocket and looked at my phone to see a message from my wife about dinner being ready. I saw my reflection in the glass and that little snarky smirk had returned again.
“Who am I kidding?” I thought. The use of these phones is now so ingrained in our lives that they are like an exterior organ, essential to our vitality and existence. I have forgotten all phone numbers because of this phone, and I would be hard pressed to find a physical phone book in my house because there isn’t one. In short, the phone is indispensable in my life and controls many aspects of it, all of my own volition.
Being dependent on my smartphone feels right despite my knowing it is wrong, and I am certain most people know it is wrong but they do not care. The fear of missing out on anything and everything – all of which is at the touch of our fingertips through a marvelous little device – is greater than our losing anything else, so losing my phone even for that brief time made me feel like the walking dead and, truthfully, I was like a zombie during that half an hour, having only one purpose – to find that phone and devour its contents again.
As I went downstairs for dinner I saw my family sitting around the table, looking at two phones and an iPad. This is what it has come to, and we are all okay with it. My wife will say something about putting down the devices during dinner, and there will be compliance for a few minutes, but the irresistible urge to see who just texted is undeniable.
We have to face the despicable fact that we have been conquered by electronic devices and are powerless to stop using them. Now is the time to face that truth no matter how bitter it is to accept, and we all need to look in the mirror because we have no one to blame but ourselves.