Being dumped over the phone

June 28, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

I want to smash my smartphone into a million pieces. 

It took me exactly seven minutes to come up with that sentence. Seven. Minutes. I know – it’s not much. But considering the circumstances, it’s the best that I could come up with. I mean, I started out well: I woke up early; made coffee; grabbed my notebook and pen; opened my computer; checked my phone. I took the cap off my pen; I checked my phone, again. I scrolled through my Instagram; I liked a friend’s photo of a rather sketchy looking Iggy Pop; no new likes or shares. No new emails; no new texts. I went back to thinking about my  column. To get refocused, I took a deep breath and wrote the first thing that came to my mind: I want to smash my smartphone into a million pieces.

I was one of the first people in my orbit to own a first-generation iPhone. For a minute, I was the cool kid (old man) on the block. I remember waiting for an hour or so at a Roger’s Store while the sales rep searched the storage room for my phone. As a rule, I abhor waiting; I didn’t mind waiting. I was stepping up my tech game. Once in my car, I feverishly opened the box. I called my wife on my old phone and told her about the new phone. It was mesmerizing. It was everything they said it would be: “iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone” (Steve Jobs). 

I felt as if I had the future in the palm of my hand. I was now part of an exclusive club. At work, the few of us lucky enough to own an iPhone talked apps, shared videos and taught each other special tricks unique to the iPhone. Our new phones became a part of our everyday lives. The last time I got excited about a phone, I was 16 years old; my parents let me have my own line in the house. I could talk to my high school girlfriend in private; could talk all night and not hang up until we woke up the next morning. A week later she called and dumped me over the phone. I’m about to do the same with my mobile phone. 

A writer needs to be alert and observant; a writer needs to watch, listen, take things in; I spend a lot of time doing these things. Sometimes you pick up on something, and then you see it everywhere you look. I see too many people walking with bowed heads, plugged in, tuned out. I’m constantly amazed, and disappointed, in the number of people taking peeks at their phone while driving.  I see concert-goers who would rather watch a recording of a concert than watch it live. I’ve watched my two-year-old nephew swiping a phone while my sister feeds him his dinner. “It’s the only way he’ll eat”, she said. I see it in the hallways and classrooms in the school I teach at. It’s never been more difficult to get a student to pay attention than it is right now. I used to be able to do it with my enthusiasm, well-thought out lessons and charm – but this is next level. They’re playing videogames, chatting with friends, texting; they’re on Snapchat and Instagram. They fight over who gets to sit closest to the electrical outlet, so that they can charge their phone while swiping right. Sometimes I can’t tell what’s plugged in – my student or their device. One day, I asked DeShawna what was wrong; she looked weak, tired. She was hunched over her desk, almost lifeless. “Sir, I have no energy and the battery on my phone is dead.” Potatoe/Potato. 

As a father, I’m increasingly conscious of how my own tech usage impacts my children’s views of me, and how I’m processing and taking in the world. Children see what we see; they do what we do. I don’t like my children seeing me on my device. There are an increasing number of reports about how being raised on smartphones and social media has led a generation of kids to be depressed and lacking in empathy. For me, the canary in the coal mine is all these tech executives – from Bill Gates to former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya- limiting or banning access to tech devices for their own children. In 2017, the The Atlantic Monthly reported that “rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.” No single agency can define a generation. But the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has taken things to a whole new level.

Personally, I don’t like what’s happened to my own brain. I can’t write for long periods of time; I can’t read for long periods of time. I don’t like how Instagram takes away from the book I’m reading or the article I’m trying to write. If they’re called ‘mobile devices’ why am I always stopping to check my phone? Why am I always turning around when I forget my phone at home?  I know why; you know why. The people that invented these devices know why. I’m starting to see my smartphone as more of an anchor; it keeps me from going to the places – mentally and physically – that I want, and need, to go to.

I write in fits and starts; I check my phone in fits and starts. I don’t want to write in fits and starts; I no longer want to check my phone in fits and starts. It’s sketchy. I’ve started to put a plan together to get rid of my smartphone. As an alternative, I’ve started looking into a ‘dumbphone’ – a phone that can only make calls, text, send emails. Just the thought of it is liberating. I also like the idea of cheating the system, of getting out of the game. I’m tired of consuming someone else’s information on a device that someone else created and paying thousands for the privilege of doing so. I want to focus more on my own creations- my stories, my children, my imagination. 

One of my favorite books is Norton Juster’s, The Phantom Tollbooth. It tells the story of Milo, a bored little boy struggling to find meaning in the world, who finds a magic tollbooth in his room and is magically transported to a fantasy Kingdom of Wisdom. One day, Milo is being shown around an invisible city. His tour guide, Alec, is pointing out all the sites that Milo cannot see; Milo is confused. Alec explains that the citizens have gotten too busy and distracted, and are so busy looking down and in a rush that, “no one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.” 

If we spend all of our time looking down and feeling down, how will we ever see when things are looking up? There are so many people lamenting where we’re at in the 21st century; people talking about a time when phones were stuck to a wall or set upon a table. Perhaps, if we took our heads out of our apps, we’d see that the world we’re searching for is right in front our eyes. I want to see it. Don’t you?

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.