At a bachelorette party earlier this year, I pulled out my mobile device: a hunk of a Verizon LG Cosmos slide dumb-phone with a two-inch display and a single megapixel camera. (Eat your heart out, Zack Morris.) The guest beside me stared, a bit bewildered. When it finally registered that, no, I couldn’t possibly be typing on a Hershey bar, she asked, “Is that a joke?”
From her sincerity, you would think I’d made a lifestyle choice more extreme than simply opting not to carry the Internet in my pocket, like taking a vow of silence or joining the anti-shampoo movement. But I suppose some smartphone devotees would rather be mute or forgo Herbal Essences than lose their constant access. And so, it seems, I’ve become a case study.
“But how do you get around without a smartphone?”
I have a GPS in my car, but if I’m traveling on-foot I print directions and train schedules beforehand and carry them in my purse.
“What do you do during idle moments, like when you’re standing in line?”
I think—sometimes about my to-do list, sometimes about the great mysteries of the universe, but mainly about National Enquirer headlines.
“What do you do when you’re around people you don’t want to talk to and you want to look busy?”
I… talk to them. Aside from the occasional crazy, a handful of duds, and the French, most people are worth talking to—at least for a few minutes.
“How do you take pictures?”
I use a camera. And no, it isn’t a Kodak disposable.
But the most common question I get is also the simplest, and it goes something like this: “But…just…why?”
My 24-year-old brother sits at the family dinner table, and his concentration drifts down to the palm of his hand. I prompt him to join our memory making and he mutters an excuse about work, but we all recognize those left and right swipes as the gestures of Tinder. While we bond and chew, he assesses and sorts the local talent. It’s undeniable. Worst of all, there is no endgame to his categorizing because, after dinner, he will be returning home, to an apartment outside that particular Tinder radius. His task is purposeless. It’s Solitaire, but with breasts.
Or the middle-aged woman who dines at the booth beside ours, Facetiming a relative back home while ignoring the person perched across from her, a young lady who drains her margarita and glances around the restaurant, perhaps concluding it would have been more social to stay at home with her iPad.
Or the room full of lonely freshmen who stew in insecure silence before class begins, shoulders slouched forward, eyes directed at their laps—scrolling, swiping, tapping, typing—completely unaware that the strangers beside them are ripe with potential for friendship. It’s all I can do not to walk in and shout: Pick up your stare! Make eye contact with one another. Look around; you already have so much in common, you antisocial T-Swift twerps!
I refuse to get a smartphone because I don’t judge the people who are entranced by their devices; I understand them. I too am guilty of such detachment, of the tendency to disconnect from reality in exchange for virtual reality. I’ve been on the other side of the screen, eyes glazed over, scrolling through Facebook, not reading people’s statuses so much as simply becoming more and more dazed by the dance of the pretty bright lights. Really, I’m no more sophisticated than a moth. There I am, pupils constricted, caressing the track pad, my precious, while my husband recounts his day, or while my puppy poses before me with her baleful eyes and perked hound ears. And I miss it. I slip into the gray haze that hums between the here-and-now and cyberspace, and I fumble these small moments, these little drops of grace. I pretend to be present, nodding when I sense I should nod and grunting when I sense I should grunt (I can be quite convincing), while my consciousness flits in and out.
That drone in the ethers is hypnotic, time-consuming, and easy to slip into, but it’s far from fulfilling. I never emerge from my circuit of email checks, Facebook, Youtube, and Yahoo headlines with a satisfied sigh. I never think to myself, “By golly, that was a fine investment of my time! Given the choice, I’d do it all over again.” I typically feel more of an ick factor, like the hollowness of a hangover or the greasy film after indulging more than one serving of French fries. It makes me want to shower my brain.
And for what? What did I gain by clicking a tantalizing headline (a crucial lesson to learn: the more tempting the headline, the more likely the article is to disappoint) or by catching an Instagram photo of the eggs benedict a high school acquaintance enjoyed for brunch, the most over-photographed meal?
The real-life realm that exists behind my laptop screen—light refracting through a glass of water, my dog trotting around the living room with my sock in her mouth, my husband unknowingly singing “Any Way You Want It” because it’s playing in his ear buds—is riddled with observations sure to make me feel more content than even the most adorable Youtube video of a kitten swatting a pit-bull. But what tender moment I don’t witness—and I mean fully witness—I can’t appreciate. And if I get a smartphone, I’ll overlook more than just the divinity inside my living room. I’ll neglect priceless experiences on the train, over dinner, at the airport—wherever. I’ll be the doofus at the Grand Canyon reading tweets from Mindy Kaling. And sure, her musings are cute and clever, but I’m at the Grand Canyon for cripes sake! I’ll be the fool reading, “The Kitchen Hack That Can Cut Cooking Time In Half!” while my brother cracks a joke that won’t be half as funny the second time around. I’ll be the dead-eyed moron chuckling at a gif of a puppy while failing to notice the playful pounce of my actual flesh and blood puppy.
So I can’t get a smartphone; I know I couldn’t resist its gravitational pull, and I would forever live divided between the now and the infinite (and infinitely meaningless) cosmos inside my device. I’d never tune out of that domain so that I could fully tune into this one. I’d never again delight in the stuff so small you really have to pay attention to appreciate. I’d miss so much: The happy meanderings of the mind. The serendipity of uninformed wanderings without the shrewd assistance of Yelp, TripAdvisor, or Google Maps. And, most importantly, I’d miss the simple repose of my mind having nowhere else to be. No way, I’d miss too much.