My pre-teen daughter has a smartphone that’s way smarter than I am. But she almost never uses it as a phone; mostly, she texts and plays games on it. Seems like the actual phone is the least-used function on her smartphone.
I don’t have a smartphone. In fact, my phone is a blithering idiot. Just signed up for the No G/No App/No Bar/Drop A Call/Skip a Hyphen Plan from T-Mobile, and it suits me fine. My daughter, however, is mortified. By everything I do.
In fact, I discovered some time ago that all of my authority over her (to the extent that it exists at all) for the foreseeable future is directly related to my ability to mortify her in front of her friends. All I have to do is threaten to bust a move. Suddenly, I’m drunk with power.
My mobile phone remembers all the phone numbers I long ago forgot. Still, somehow I manage to dial the occasional wrong number. Apparently, I’ve not only forgotten all the phone numbers I once was compelled to carry with me in my head, I’ve forgotten how to dial them as well. Kind of a technology-induced Alzheimer’s: I get stupider as my phone gets smarter.
I remember when my father took me to Disneyland in 1968. A seasoned sports writer, he was in Los Angeles to interview O.J. Simpson, who’d just won the Heisman Trophy. In Disneyland, we happened on the AT&T/Bell Telephone exhibit, where they were introducing the push-button phone. It was a simple display: a standard rotary dial phone alongside a new push-button model, both beneath a giant stop watch, and all accompanied by a strapping young man in a snappy Bell blazer.
Unfortunately for AT&T/Bell Telephone, the unctuous young man selected my father from the crowd to help demonstrate the superior speed and ease of the new push-button phone. He gave him a 10-digit number to dial, first on the rotary phone. My dad, with years of experience dialing the phone with one hand while watching Willie Mays on the field and typing 60 wpm with his other hand, blazed through the 10 digits in a heartbeat -- without even looking at the phone.
I could see the beads of sweat already starting to form on the brow of the handsome but hapless AT&T/Bellboy. “Well,” he said, half-anticipating the disaster just ahead of him, “if he dials the number that fast on the old phone, we can only imagine how quickly he’ll dial the same number on the new push-button phone.”
Keep dreaming, I thought to myself. Years later -- having long mastered the push-button phone – my father would call me at all hours to ask why his Windows desktop task bar suddenly wound up at the top of the screen, or why he had just incurred yet another cryptic system alert: YOU HAVE COMMITTED AN UNSPEAKABLE ACT!
He passed away just before smartphones hit the market, but I can imagine him still seated somewhere in front of his antediluvian Underwood, still puzzled and still outmatched by his own technology. I can even imagine his very next question: “Can you help me change the ribbon?”
I miss him. Sometimes, it seems like life these days is just an endless string of fatuous euphemisms. I spend most of mine just trying to figure out how best to manage my time with all of my time-saving digital devices. Stephen Covey was right: Rather than trying to prioritize our schedules, we should schedule our priorities. We need to put first things first. Think I’ll text that thought to my daughter.