[A fictional story with truthful elements.]
For years, the extent of sophistication of Ari’s phone was its flip feature. That was the rage once, way back when the original Nokia with its green screen and punchy buttons and its game of Snake had been the only option.
The Motorola RAZR made its debut. It was in vogue. It was flashy. It was sleek and shiny. Inside, there wasn’t much happening, but it was years before that would matter. Ari didn’t get the RAZR, but nearly everyone had one. He got a Sony Ericsson flip phone, and that was fine with him. It did was it was supposed to do. He enjoyed it for a few years, trading wallpapers and ringtones using Bluetooth. Alas, as is the nature of personal technology devices, a replacement was inevitable. Eventually he got a phone with internet, a phone which had been sought after years before: the Palm Pre Plus. But it was an utter disappointment. It was slow beyond slow, with prolonged delays from the internet to its motion gestures.
It was foremost among the last generation of phones. The Age of the Smartphone had begun, and the Palm Pre was clearly an imposter, an oldie at a young people’s party wearing young clothes but failing to pull it off. It was a relic that barely functioned, and even then at a snail’s pace when the thoroughbreds of phone technology were beginning to flex their muscles.
And every month the Palm Pre was costing Ari extra money for the slow internet. So Ari decided that maybe he didn’t need internet yet. So he downgraded. He got a Pantech phone that mimicked the Blackberry design. It didn’t flip. It didn’t slide. It didn’t have internet. It didn’t have Android apps. It didn’t have a real camera. It was just a phone. It made calls and sent texts. It had a full keyboard. And Ari loved it for its simplicity. For him, the phone represented a product that looked and acted exactly as it was meant to. In a world where nothing was as it seemed, this alone was comforting.
And to help matters, he had an older Android phone (that didn’t have service) which he used to take notes and pictures, and when he connected to WiFi, he could use Whatsapp. In truth, he didn’t even like writing notes on it, compared to using a real paper and pencil (mechanical, 0.5mm lead). He reasoned that typing in general, say, on a computer, was making people lazy, from the proficiency of their spelling to the state of their physical handwriting. Phones were even worse, because by nature they were evolving to become more efficient, then more entertaining, and people who were being efficiently entertained had no time to write full paragraphs or spell words correctly.
Ari would look at other people, absorbed in their Motorolas and HTCs and iPhones and Galaxies, and he would shake his head. They would be texting during meals, during movies, during classes, taking ridiculous selfies for Snapchat, Googling any question that came to their minds to have the answer in an instant. This wasn’t in line with Ari’s philosophy. If you didn’t appreciate a question, why would you appreciate its answer?
Google was the crack-cocaine for the “Knowledge is Power” freaks. Everything was turning into a series of data streams, with little nuggets of information tossed around like popcorn: cheap, buttery, and gone the next second. Snapchat epitomized that mindset, and was even worse in all the predictable ways.
Everyone around him was falling to distraction, but Ari was safe, safe only because he had chosen the unpopular route. Because he persevered in Simple Land, where phones had no need to flash SOS signals; they just vibrated instead. In Simple Land, he could drop his phone and there were no severe consequences; he could replace his own battery, which lasted a very long time, thank-you-very-much. He flaunted his simple phone around, his portal to Simple Land while people around him were trapped in a sticky web of complication.
And then Ari got an iPhone. It was a gift, and he resolved immediately to sell it online. But the way it works for selling things online is, you procrastinate for a few months until the resell value has dropped and you finally give in to the nagging voices at the back of your mind to make a post on Craigslist and Ebay and Amazon. At that point, the next model has probably been released and is already peaking popularity.
In Ari’s case, the iPhone 6S had been released, and Ari’s gift 5C was dropping market value daily. Then his Android note-taking, Whatsapp-using, picture-capturing device broke.
So Ari started using the iPhone. It was a simple switch, really, nothing too dramatic. He put his Pantech away in a drawer and turned to the newer, sleeker device. Right from the start, the iPhone worked a powerful magic. Against his will, Ari found himself admiring the sleekness of the design, marveling at how so much could be contained within such a small rectangle. He grudgingly admitted to himself that taking notes was much better on the 5C than on any other phone he’d used, that somehow the keyboard knew what he was saying before he said it. He was able to use Whatsapp all the time, not just when some benevolent Wi-Fi router was open to use.
Ari found it handy to search for Biology factoids while he studied. He didn’t care much for Biology anyway, and he was able to make the work go a lot more smoothly by looking things up. Late at night in his dark room, when nobody was around, Ari would talk to Siri. The conversations went in circles, but that didn’t matter. He sent late-night selfies of his grainy ISO-lit face, his features arranged in “humble-but-killing-it” pose, or his other favorite: the “I-have-no-idea-someone’s-taking-my-picture” face.
He was the King of Emoji’s, using them perfectly, and the perfect amount of them, for he knew that a text or Whatsapp message is ruined by emoji spam. No, he was meticulous. Just an emoji here and there, and they were the perfect touch. On Instagram, his feed was blowing up, bit by bit. It was slow going at first, but he soon realized how to tag his pictures effectively. People who weren’t currently following him found his feed, and even his lazy posts got several hundred likes.
Life was for living, and the pace of living had accelerated. In response, it seemed, Ari’s tolerance for delay had decreased. Internet load time had to keep up. When it didn’t, Ari got very frustrated. He’d mutter about his stupid service provider under his breath. He’d scroll up to refresh pages even as he knew it would do no good. He’d whine to nobody in particular, “Come on! This is 2016!” That was usually when the internet would kick in again, almost as if to appease him.
No trip to the bathroom went unaccompanied by his iPhone, where Ari could watch a few dozen YouTube videos. He learned to cover the sound of his laughter by inhaling sharply when he realized he was about to laugh.
Multitasking had become a skill in its own right and Ari found that he was quite adept. He made sure no time was wasted. At meals he would load up a double forkful so that in between bites there was time enough to respond to a text or a tweet. Sometimes he’d hear his name called and he’d look up to see that someone had been talking to him. It wasn’t really a big deal though, because it was never really that important. Besides, the gist of the conversation registered a few seconds later, and he was able to say confidently, “I was too listening. You were telling me about class, how the teacher yelled at you in public. No need to accuse me, gosh.”
By turning it back on the other person and keeping the playing field level, Ari was able to micromanage his Facebook posts and the local conversation, all while eating, which was necessary.
One day Ari was walking, as he was wont to do at times. He was texting away happily, letting his peripheral vision handle the finer details of pedestrian logistics. He didn’t notice a set of stairs coming up as he approached them, expecting a ramp instead (stairs are so old-fashioned), and he tripped. Not ‘lightly stumbled’, or ‘lost his footing momentarily’. He tripped spectacularly, coming off the ground for a full second to land violently on his hands and knees. His shin smarted something fierce. His toe was swollen like a marshmallow in a campfire. But that wasn’t what… where was it…? He didn’t care about any of that. His only concern was… Where did it…
“Where’s my phone? Hey, where’d it go?” It had flown from his hand, mid-text, just as he was selecting the alien emoji to describe his Math teacher; it had flown like an arrow from a bow, like a shell from a canon, like a stone from David’s sling into the Goliath of a brick wall, where it collided and broke into a thousand pieces.
The glass was shattered so finely he could’ve snorted it with a straw. Bent pieces of metal were scattered around, unidentifiable, the bumper debris of a traffic accident. Bits of green motherboard were strewn about like entrails from roadkill. The iPhone was gone.
“Nooooo!” Ari wailed. A sympathetic passerby consoled him, offering him a blanket and a paper bag. Real tears began to sting his eyes, salty rivers of betrayal that traced lines down his face, unchecked. He was in shock and he knew it. Part of him wondered if the recipient of his text would see that he was still typing and forever wait for his reply. It would never come.
Ari mourned his iPhone. He wallowed in despair, alternating between sobbing hysterically in the bathroom and staring off into the far distance, ignoring everything and everyone. Eventually (twenty minutes later), he realized he needed to call people, and he had no means of doing so. He tried to think of a solution – he’d Google it if only – No! Stop dwelling on it, it will only make you sad! Ari, think! Suddenly he remembered another phone from long ago. In a trance, he walked towards it, pulled by its presence, daring it to still exist. In his room, in a drawer he never used: a phone.
He lifted it up slowly. It was slightly heavy, but not iPhone heavy. Not like it deserved to be heavy. He reached for the power switch at the top but there wasn’t any.
“What the…” Oh! That’s right. There was another way to turn on phones, once. You had to hold a button… the End Call button! That was it.
Incredibly, the old Pantech came to life in his hands. There was a tiny bit of battery hanging on after all this time, almost like the phone hadn’t given up faith that it would still be used once again. He plugged it in, disbelieving. He could barely remember using a charging adapter this clunky.
He had calls to make, so he made them. He would’ve liked to send a simple voice note, but that wasn’t an option. There was no touch screen. The call quality wasn’t as good. Still, it got the job done. He carried his old phone on him for the rest of the day, but discreetly. He would be so embarrassed if people saw him with it. He, the social media guru! He, the King of Emoji’s!
Ari was so bored during lunch that he actually ate. He chewed over the recent turn of events in relative silence. He had nobody to talk to because everyone was either listening to headphones or on Whatsapp, and the only time anyone said anything, it was for a voice note that took three takes to sound right.
Just as he was finishing up, a friend glanced over at him and made a face.
“Hey, so we’re leaving in two minutes? Earth to Ari! Are you even, like, ready? ‘Cause we aren’t waiting.”
“What?” Ari didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
“Whatever. We’re going. Check the group chat.”
“I, uh… I can’t go,” Ari said lamely. He had no idea where anyone was going. He didn’t want to admit that he wasn’t on Whatsapp. He had probably missed so many conversations. And why couldn’t anyone just say something in person?
Now quite alone, Ari sat in the near-silence. He heard the electric buzz of electricity. He heard the ticking of a clock. He heard the subtle rustles of a building settling in on itself, going about its business; he noticed plastic bags unfurling, hot water urns reboiling, chairs scraping somewhere, a throat being cleared.
It was a depressing world without an iPhone, but Ari didn’t have Siri to ask why it had to be that way. So he thought about it. The way the world was, smartphones were no longer a craze. They were the standard.
Phones did so much. Maybe even too much. Technology’s progress was focused on convenience, and people were happy to do less work. Everyone had replaced real interactions with the computerized versions. All the real emotion and humanity that people shared with each other was now interfaced into mini rectangles. People had replaced connection with communication. And now everyone lived a fragmented life, where their attention was split between a dozen different platforms.
Ari toyed with his primitive Pantech. He turned it over in his hand, spinning it. He would have to get a new phone, of course. There was no way this would replace the iPhone he had come to… well, not “love” exactly. Depend on? He couldn’t look to his phone to entertain him anymore, the way he could with an iPhone. You could just grab it and expect it to make your boredom vanish. And it totally worked. But that wouldn’t happen with this old phone. There would be moments – possibly hours at a time – when he wouldn’t have access to entertainment and high-speed communication. And that was obviously no way to live.
Or wasn’t it? Hadn’t he been that way once? Wasn’t Ari once the last valiant champion of the simple life, who lived in Simple Land? Hadn’t he persevered in a crazy world as a stalwart soldier, a wise warrior in the face of chaos and corruption? What had happened?
And more importantly, what should he do now? Should he go back to the way things were before?
But how could he? Was it even possible? He was used to efficiency, multi-tasking and instant satisfaction. What had he done before, when he was bored? He didn’t know, but it must have been something important. What had happened to reading books? What had happened to him having deep, meaningful conversations with people?
Ari knew he was at a fork in the road. He had a choice to make, a choice which would determine how he lived his life in the future.
You’re probably thinking Ari decided to go back to a simple life and celebrate wholesomeness and clarity.
He got the iPhone 6S Plus, with Rose Gold trim because it was swag. He reassumed the throne as the King of Emoji’s, reopened his ashram as the social media guru.
Life was for the living, and the pace of living had increased. Ari had best keep up.