Sunday, 28 July 2019

Hooked on your phone?


Last summer I was faced with an existential conundrum. It was a blazing hot day and I had left home without hat or cap.

This was far from a fashion problem. A doctor had recently warned me that being of a fair complexion I should protect my exquisitely delicate skin.

“To hell with it,” I rebelled. “I’d sooner end up the color of an Enniscorthy strawberry than go all the way back.

And then calamity struck. I had forgotten my cell phone. My heart leaped, a cold sweat broke out on my burning forehead, and I engaged in a fit of self-recrimination that would have done justice to Judas Iscariot.

There was nothing for it. I’d have to hoof it back the many blocks in the humid heat.

“Why?” A voice of reason inquired from deep within my psyche.

I stopped in mid-step. There was no compelling reason to retrieve my phone. I’d only be gone for a couple of hours. 

But it was obviously deeper than that. A wave of anxiety swept over me that brought to mind a hungover morning long ago when I didn’t have the price of a pint. I was hooked – to a bloody phone?

I paced to and fro on that narrow sidewalk blocking matrons with strollers, anguished hipsters, and the homeless before I bit the bullet and headed off phoneless into the great unknown.

I’ve been “clean” for a year now and often leave the house without my cell. As far as I know on those phoneless rambles no one has called to inform me of a lottery win, but I have missed many messages from mysterious Chinese women and emails from gregarious West African princes all of whom assure me that they have my best interests at heart.

Going cold turkey wasn’t particularly hard, but then I’m probably not hooked as most. I’m not a big texter and have never activated notification sounds.

So, what’s this smart phone addiction all about? Is it a need to be constantly in the mix? I have some rapper friends who feel that they need to be online at all times to see what’s trending.

For myself I’ve stopped even checking news online as I’ve found it ruins my appetite for the more in-depth analysis one might get in the Times, the Journal, or the sports pages of The Post.

Then again we live in exhausting times. We have a president who never sleeps and governs by tweet. 

Perhaps he’s trying to keep the rest of us awake and on our toes?  I recently heard a millennial friend inquire, “Has anything of value ever been tweeted?”

I couldn’t even hazard an opinion as I’m not a tweeter. The very thought of having one’s sleep interrupted by the random offended thoughts of our president is alarming. I know this might sound unpatriotic, and please don’t tell Ivanka, but I already find it increasingly difficult to think straight in a world tangled up in apps, memes and emojis.

Which brings to mind a 19th Century poem beaten into me at Wexford CBS.

“What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows…
A poor life this if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.”

I wonder what the Christian Brothers would make of President Trump or contemporary social interaction? 

In a restaurant last night I looked around during a break in conversation at the dozen or so other diners, all gazing raptly at their cells. For a moment I wondered if Wexford had beaten Kilkenny again or had another royal just delivered her baby. 

I have to confess there are times I long for old-fashioned answering machines and those long lazy afternoons spent on my couch wondering what I might do next – if anything. 

I had all day at my disposal, a six-pack cooling, and time to dig into that big volume of Proust or Steve Duggan’s tips from Belmont.

Those idyllic days are gone to be replaced by an ever present niggling anxiety that I can’t quite put my finger on. Excuse me while I check my cell.

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