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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

Guess who’s coming to dinnner

I am the first to admit that I will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the technological 21st century. A toddler picked up my antiquated Nokia phone the other day and couldn’t figure out why the screen wouldn’t change when he brushed it. How far beyond redemption am I when a three-year-old thinks I’m a dinosaur? I knew the day would come when I’d find myself harking back to the good old days, reminiscing about how it used to be… I just didn’t think it would come when I was still this side of 50.

Gone are the days when we might have a quiet dinner together, sorting out the world’s problems or catching up on who’s doing what with whom. Now it’s me, you, and your smart phone – ergo me, you, and all your friends. And your friends, constantly interrupting our conversation with e-mails and texts, seem to get more of your attention than I do. Perhaps I should just give in and get a smart phone.  Or perhaps I should just be more choosey about who I hang out with.

Disconnected

I have a friend in Ireland who doesn’t have a mobile phone. She doesn’t have a Facebook account. She doesn’t Tweet or Blog or have a private email address. And she seems to get along just fine. She’s a well-adjusted, active member of society. She manages to stay connected and not miss out on parties or events. She’s more current on current affairs than many others I know. She’s always on time because she has no way of letting people know that she’ll be late. And what’s more – she has time to do things. Things like decorating, or picking wild mushrooms, or gardening. And when I have dinner with her, I get her undivided attention. And I like it.

Inconsiderate

By our very nature, we like attention. We like to be the focus of conversation. We like to be heard. Oscar Wilde reportedly said that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about. We fall in love with those who make us feel like we’re the only other person in the room. We are drawn to those who listen to us, who make us feel that we have something to say that’s worth hearing. We choose to spend our time with those who make us feel special. So why then, when we come into possession of a smart phone do we turn into stupid people – rude, inconsiderate, and downright ignorant at times.

Yes, of course, this was happening ever before the smart phone came into inexistence…to a certain extent. But in the last twelve months, it seems to me that it’s spiralled way out of control. And I am sick of it. Last night I had dinner with a mate of mine who was keeping one eye on me, another on the conversation, and a third on the text conversation he was having with a mate of his. I pointed out how rude he was being. He said that his mate was the sort of mate who needed a quick response. I pointed out that I was sitting right there, had asked him a question, and would like a response, too. He said that I could see him but his mate couldn’t. So therefore, his absent mate deserved more attention that the one at the table (me). For all the attention I got, I may as well have been sitting at home at my kitchen table, with dinner for one and a mirror propped in front of the milk jug to create the illusion of company. At least I’d have had a decent conversation.

Obsessed

I had thought that the Hungarian obsession with mobile phones was a lot more intense than the Irish one, but alas, it’s not so. Both nations seem equally damaged. Dinner in Dublin or dinner in Budapest – the only difference is the bottom line on the bill. Both peoples are addicted to staying in touch with those absent and in danger of alienating those present. And what’s worse is that no-one but me seems to have a problem with this behaviour.

What is wrong with the world? Is it too much to ask of you that you show a little respect for the company you’re keeping? I go to great lengths to stock up on amusing anecdotes. I read voraciously to stay current on what’s happening in the world. I live life to the fullest and am happy to make mistakes so that you can benefit from my experience. My goal as a dinner guest is to provide you with witty repartee, insightful comments, and interesting conversation. The least you could do is switch off your phone and pay attention.

First published in the Budapest Times 20 April 2012

23/4/2012 – And fresh from Australia from Biddy