Out with the old

They told me that I needed to grow up. To get with the programme. To join the twenty-first century. They told me I’d outgrown him. That he’d lost his usefulness. That he was old, battered and not nearly as versatile or as attractive as a younger, more modern version. They told me that my life would change. That I wouldn’t know myself. That I’d forget him in time and move on. I tried to stay loyal, to hold my ground, to be faithful, but worn down by months of steady haranguing, I finally gave in.

Granted, it was fate that intervened. The universe conspired against me. I was perfectly happy with Fred, my old-fashioned, antiquated Nokia. He’d served me well. He and I had had a perfect understanding. He knew his limitations. I knew his limitations. More importantly I knew my own (technological) limitations. We got on very well together. He was incapable of any fancy moves. He couldn’t anticipate my every whim. He simply served a need and served it well. He kept me in contact with people.

 For each task, a tool

I had a camera to take photos. I had a laptop to write e-mails. I had a watch to tell the time. I needed Fred to make phone calls and send SMSs. Nothing more. If I wanted to know the meaning of a word, I’d check the dictionary. If I wanted to know the weather forecast, I’d turn on the radio. If I wanted to know how to get from A to B, I’d look at a map.

I knew two things for certain. I didn’t want begin an incestuous relationship with a smartphone. To grow attached to it. To become dependent on it. And I didn’t want to be at the beck and call of the world and its mother, all day, all night, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I wanted to retain some independence, some distance. I didn’t want to be available.

For each passion, a season

I’d seen too many of my friends fall by the wayside. I’d seen too many of them get caught up in a wanton affair with their android of choice. I’d seen too many of them interrupt our conversation, cut short our visit because of a beep or a buzz or a cute song-and-dance routine that heralded the arrival of someone more important, some matter more pressing, some opportunity more exciting.

Fred was self-sufficient. He knew his place. He wasn’t high maintenance and didn’t need constant checking. Ours was a purely functional relationship: if I had no need for him, he stayed put, silent.

But then I won a Samsung Galaxy III mini (a generic, nameless beast that admittedly looks better than old Fred, but is a little intimidating). It took me three days pick up the courage to take it out of its box. It took me another three days to work up the nerve to take Fred to T Mobile for a lobotomy – to transplant his brain, his memory, into my new smart friend. And it took T Mobile three days to redress the damage it did to my SIM card. I lost half my contacts. I lost connectivity for the weekend. And I lost my patience.

For each lesson, a school

But in that 72 hours when Fred was comatosed and my new smart friend remained inert, I rediscovered time.

I spent a lustrous weekend with Robert B. Parker. I visited with Harlan Coben. I had dinner with Michael Connelly. I took a bath Mark Giminez. I copy-edited eight articles on topics ranging from biotechnology to corporate social responsibility, from drug testing and analysis to greenhouse gases. I worked on a book about the Relics of Jesus Christ. I did three loads of laundry, lost three kilos in weight, and finally listened to every Gospel recording Elvis ever made.

I had no calls, no texts, no plans. I had no telephone numbers. I knew no addresses. I posted on Facebook that I would be out of commission until Monday evening and the world left me alone.

For each worry, a reason

But the holiday is over. My smartphone is ready to be unlocked, unleashed. Fred is about to be retired. My life is about to change. I am, apparently, about to discover a whole new world.

My fear is that this world will be one where compulsive communication becomes my norm. Where my android (I can’t bring myself to name him) becomes my best friend. Where I discover, a little too late, that my greatest worry manifests itself in reality: that carrying a smartphone will be like carrying a tracking device, similar to one of those electronic anklets that prisoners under house arrest wear. And that someone, somewhere, will know every move I make, when I make it, and with whom I make it, too. I worry that life, as I know it, will be over and that I will finally have to join the twenty-first century.

First published in the Budapest Times 19 July 2013

12 Responses

  1. I just love this post, Mary. In spite of your using this dire warning as a blogging ploy, I am quite sure this will not happen to you. Ideally, the new device will free you, offeriing a convenient all-in-one solution (yes, once you learn how to use it). For many, this fosters dependence on the device, and a fascination with its power to connect, to entertain (to control?). Not gonna happen to you.

  2. Bang on the money. Communication technology is a scary thing sometimes.

    Some things are just meant to stay in your own head, without concern they will define you.

    Your rich inner landscape of ill conceived theories and profanity based humour is a final refuge in a century that demands personal branding.

    PS: While considering this post I realised that all the ideas and writings that have formed my opinion on the self and expression came from Irish writers. Got me thinking about an Irish national identity now, about oppression, emigration and the formation of a spiritual homeland. (See: ill conceived theories)

    1. Now Alex, I know by that ‘you’, you mean the world in general … surely you’re not saying my theories are ill conceived and that my humour depends on profanity 🙂 Which Irish writers, by the way ?

      1. I did mean the world in general and myself in particular- one can’t say one these days without sounding like an unutterable tool, can one?

        Writers- I am no expert on Irish writers. Much as I would love to say I was a great appreciator of Joyce, it rather zooms past me, but I idly wondered how the Dubliners with social media would be, all that distilled truth and brutal understanding, but with LOL cats.

        My big forever lit-crush is Yeats. I am referring to Yeats with his ‘pilgrim soul’ and ‘my country is Kiltartan Cross/ My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor’. I got into Yeats at an impressionable age, and those two references make up a huge chunk of my opinions (I wanted to be Maud Gonne – sigh).

        The Kiltartan/Irish Airman one is pretty much everything I think about nationalism, patriotism, war and any kind of joining-in whatsoever, including social media.

        This being me, I was thinking of Wilde too, who said, quite brilliantly, ‘The only person I should like to get to know better is myself, and I don’t seem to have time for it at present.’ Now those are words to live by on connectivity.

        1. Had I had a daughter, her name would have been Maud… Love Yeats on being Irish – we have an abiding tragedy that sustains us through temporary periods of joy. If you’ve not happened upon JP Donleavy’s ‘The woman who liked clean restrooms’ – methinks you’d enjoy. (Does ‘methinks’ rank up there with ‘one’?)

          1. I think whether ‘methinks’ is as plumish as ‘one’ is a fine subject for an essay.

            Can’t believe you answered at 2:10 am. My excuse is I just fell in the door from a Levellers gig, what’s yours?

            Just ordered ‘The woman who liked clean restrooms’ and await with interest.

            As for “we have an abiding tragedy that sustains us through temporary periods of joy.” I am going to be chewing that one over for days. “Sustains us through temporary periods of joy”. You actually have it. Why the hell am I not hearing about your latest novel?

            We should collaborate on a novel about a woman named Maud.

          2. In Oslo, land of the midnight sun… this time of year anyway… and yes, a novel named Maud… alternate chapters….mmmm

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