Aug 15

PHONES IN THE TOILET — HOW’D THAT HAPPEN?

by in 21st Century World

Running through my daily internet routine a few days ago — World Hum , BootsnAll , email, CNN and MSNBC for news, and of course, Facebook — I smiled and replied quickly when I read my friend had dropped her phone in the toilet, losing all her contacts.  “Please email me your info right away!” she wrote, re-establishing her social network platform to stay connected, despite the toilet mishap.  (Sure . . . she should’ve had it synced or backed-up or something, thus avoiding the entire crisis all together, but that’s another entry.)

What was striking about the moment was that it wasn’t particularly striking.  It wasn’t for a few days, until suddenly, I thought, “What the heck?  Why do we take our cell phones into the bathroom with us?”

Oh, stop feigning surprise.  You know you’ve done it too.  We just don’t like to admit it.  Quick email check or text message.  Update Facebook.  Maybe a couple of moves on a favorite game.  Or just check the headlines.   Confirming this phenomenon, a client recently confessed how she giggled when sending a text message to her brother from the bathroom stall, testing out that new Iphone, a treasured prize from her 60th birthday loot.  And of course, anyone connected with teenagers and 20-somethings will confirm that generation actually sleeps with their phones, ensuring a pithy reply to any late night text message or email.  It’s cultural, it seems, spanning generations and political differences.  Red states, blue states?  Bring it on.  We’ve got our phones.

With time to fill, the ubiquitous cell phone becomes the gadget through which we fill it.  And of course, it’s not just in the bathroom.  It’s everywhere.  Standing in line at the supermarket, in the back of a cab headed to the airport, at a stoplight, waiting for a movie to start, between courses at a restaurant, even those quiet moments in conversation — quick snatch of data before returning to human interaction.  Seems it’s the 21st century equivalent of looking over the shoulder of your cocktail party companion, engaged in this conversation but looking for someone or something better over by the shrimp tray.

While traveling alone recently, I decided to play a game with myself.   Forego the phone to kill time, choosing instead to look up, look around, maybe even converse everytime I had that urge to pull out the phone.  It wasn’t as easy as you think.  The bathroom time went first.  That wasn’t too tough . . . it’s always seemed a bit silly and forbidden, so I think I was quietly relieved to leave it safely tucked in my purse.  But the cab ride?  That was a different story.  Two cab rides, actually, one from JFK into the city, then again a few days later, an early morning dart to LaGuardia.  Then an afternoon brunch in a midtown NYC cafe.  Now that’s a challenge.  Alone.  Food.  Public place.  And no phone!  Later, sitting in a Broadway theatre, lights still up, waiting for the show to begin.

Nervously twitching in each situation, the phone was abandoned (but of course, still tucked in my purse.  In case of emergency, you know.)  At brunch and at the theatre, I ended up in terrific conversation with NYC locals, just out enjoying the city.  We chatted, the old fashioned way, about nothing particular yet things interesting and worth the time.  From the cab’s back seat from JFK, I had a rather interesting tug-o-war with the driver about the appropriate tip, given my choice to pay by credit card.  (We didn’t agree, but he prevailed.  He knew where I was staying.)    Heading to LaGuardia at sunrise, I sat back and marveled at the city I’ve missed more than I knew.  I was actually reflective.  Try doing that with the phone in hand!

Of course I’d love to report that now back home, I’ve traded my beloved Iphone for a Moleskin journal, thoughtful writing having replaced the mindless phone finger dance.  But no.  It’s still firmly attached, my constant companion.   I’ve made progress though.  It’s decidedly off limits in the bathroom now, partially because I simply dread living with myself should it go for an unintended swim.  (Think of my poor friend, who while anonymous, is now the focus of this blog post.)   And I’ve enjoyed several outings with the kids — beach burgers at Kalapawai today, Yogurt Mama a few days back — and in both cases, we talked.  Just talked, about whatever came up.   Including what we saw in the world around us, outside the window, down at the beach, over at the next picnic table.  Progress.  And I like where it’s headed.

Gotta go.  Just heard that familiar beep.  Think I’ve got a new Facebook message.

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