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YOU CAN CALL ME A CAB

My friend was trying to convince me to get a smartphone. I'm one of the 30 percent of American adults without said technology. But I do own a cell phone - a trusty 2006 Blackberry without Internet capabilities - I just never use it. Or only when I leave the house, which is rare, and only in the event that I need to make calls or send texts. Mostly the only calls I receive are from telemarketers. Each voicemail they leave robs me of one of my minutes. Which peeves me, because I pay as I go. I don't like plans. (How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.) Nor do I like monthly fees. It works for me.

My friend's argument was this. If I were her only lifeline, her emergency contact, and she got mugged and needed a Uber and called me, I wouldn't be able to rescue her without a smartphone, so I'd have to call her a cab, that overpriced throwback that smells like smoke and never comes on time. Imagine failing to come through and in a matter of life or death! Never mind that this scenario is as unlikely as it gets. She has more of a chance of getting mugged and being left with her smartphone than she does of getting struck by lightning while she is swimming in the ocean during a shark attack. In other words no chance. And never mind that the day before I had tried to call this friend, and emailed her as well, I didn't hear back until the evening. When I reminded her of this, she said she hadn't gotten the message. She had been working on a project and had turned her phone off so as not to be interrupted. Even with her fancy device she had been unreachable. So if I had been the one mugged and she was my only hope I'd have been shit out of luck. She later confessed that she had gotten my morning message when I had left it but had chosen not to reply. Catching her in a lie didn't do a great thing for our friendship. I'd expect more from a human. Not even my computer would leave me hanging.

We broached the topic of cost. Her cell phone costs $800 and with planned obsolescence built in she will need to replace it next year. Thanks Steve Jobs, you mf. Planned obsolescence is his legacy, a model that many other companies are following. If you don't believe me, have a look at our growing landfills, filled as they are with last year's Christmas gifts. Which is why I don't give them. I heard that with the new model of some phone, the battery is not replaceable, so after it dies, after I think 700 hours or something, the phone itself is worthless. My friend's way around this fee is to put only half down and pay the other half in installments, then to cell the phone (get it?) after the year is almost up and purchase the newer version. Who would want to buy a year old device? This implies that there are many users unlike herself that don't want the latest model. And $75 a month for unlimited minutes and text and data seems like a lot to pay. This is in addition to her $50 monthly Internet fee, and she doesn't even get TV. I tell her I pay $100 for Internet and a land line, which is $25 less than she pays, and I at least get basic channels so in the event my friends come over and want to watch "the big game," I can oblige. May that day never come.

And so my answer is no. No I will not get a smartphone. No, neither should you. And if you have one, use it less than I do my computer. Because I check my laptop practically every hour for emails I hardly receive. It's a compulsion, which would be compounded by having a handheld device to check as well. And those unwieldy things look so bulky in one's pocket. Can they really fit in one's jeans? If so, are you packing a piece or just glad to see me? Yada-yada. And if you do cherish your technology, which you simply cannot live without, as it's tied to your business, then at least make your employer pay for said phone, which is nothing more than a silicon leash. It's what my friend does. And if you are that employer, write the thing off. 

Now I know that more and more people are in a relationship with their phones. Sleeping by them in bed. Checking them when they have sex. If you are such a person, don't be that guy or gal. But even if you long for the day when your device will be implanted beneath your skin so that you merge with your technology, having all this data, knowledge, processing speed not merely at your fingertips but on the tip of your tongue, on the top of your head, please oh please: preserve your humanity. It's the one thing you have that the computers never can, because they are not human. Our computers are already smarter, faster and more longevitous than us (longevitous really needs to be a word, for how else to say longer-lived?) They are better at math, more efficient at problem solving, better able to focus for long periods without getting distracted by Facebook/Twitter/Instagram or Reddit/Snapchat/Netflix/Amazon/Hulu not to mention the ads on these sites and video games besides, with memories far more reliable than yours or mine. But they are not human. 

And what does it mean to be human? For one thing, it means frailty. Because I can get sick, break a bone, be helpless, I know that you can too. And when you do or are, I can be there for you. Unlike the phone that freezes or whose battery dies at precisely the most inopportune moment in time. Unlike the friend who wouldn't take my call. The friend who may need a lesson in humanity to really be the friend I need. And don't lose your ability to laugh. Even Siri has a sense of humor, or so I hear.

Because haven't you noticed how serious many people are? Especially the younger generation. That is, younger than I, who am 40ish. It's as if they mistake talking fast and hording facts for intelligence and expertise. It's not. It just makes you sound like you're on crack, or are manic, or have OCD. Because flight of ideas and pressured speech can be hallmark signs of all three. Sweetness is something that Siri, or Cortana, or Google Now can't manage. And Amazon Echo doesn't take offense when you bark orders at it. But people do, so don't be so curt and monotone with me. Remember your Ps and Qs! Please and thank you.

I think the more time we spend interacting with nonliving things that more and more seem living, able as they do to speak and almost to relate, the more we take on those nonliving characteristics ourselves, the more our intelligence morphs into some inferior version of the very artificial intelligence that we spawned to serve us. It gets so under my skin when I interact with people who with their lifeless eyes and flattened affect seem more like automatons, or like the clinically depressed. Maybe too much Ritalin is getting passed around. I've taken enough of amphetamines both legal and not to know they make you live in your head. Seriousness should not be mistaken for smarts. A quick reply is not always the correct one. Einstein was reported to have waited hours or days before getting back to people, because he really mulled over what they had said, and his replies were well thought out. I leave a more terse term to the top of your head, or your word search. And some of the most brilliant people in the world are also the funniest. So don't mistake levity for lack of smarts. Mark Twain, or Einstein's twin, has written some of the wittiest stuff under the sun. 



Be kind. Judge yourself by your capacity to love others, your tenderness and willingness to feel. Stop finding fault, correcting, being pedantic. Leave these traits for the unfortunate OCDers of the world. A preoccupation with detail is a sign of this personality disorder. With your furrowed brow and straight face you can seem very efficient but ultimately you get nothing done. This curious phenomenon, mistaking the appearance of efficiency for actual efficiency, is ego-syntonic. Appearing smart or quick is consistent with one's ideal self-image, which makes it very difficult to dispel. But we are not always what we pretend to be. Ego-dystonic refers to behaviors which are in conflict with the ideal self. And spending so many hours on your device is precisely that. It is not fun, it is not making you smarter, you are not getting things done. You are wasting time, ruining your vision, and building a bigger behind. In a word, don't. 

Permit me a speculation. Why is autism on the rise? I asked my friend who is a clinical psychologist. Is it due to the greater prevalence, or to more sensitive methods of detection? was my query. Both, is his surmise. At least he didn't implicate vaccines or the entire restaurant would have joined us in heated debate. I preferred the food on my plate. But here's a tidbit to test your palate. Consider the characteristics of autism. Little eye contact, minimal acknowledgment of others. These poor buggers are losing their humanity as a result of spending too much time in front of screens, raised by parents who do too much of this themselves. Reluctance to being touched? How about because mommy and daddy are holding them less? The cure for this condition and so many others is love and tenderness. Try it. I am not a child psychologist, so this is only my opinion. If Google told you this you'd believe it, so why not believe a humble guy with an MD?

You are not your device. You will never be. Even if it is implanted in you, you will always remain separate. Its processing speed and storage capacity will remain foreign and unfamiliar, even if they are under your skin. But you will always have your humanity. It's something you're born with, like your breakable bones and my brain farts. Your ability to empathize is uniquely human, as is your creativity and capacity for non-linear thought. Next time you hold your phone, it cannot feel you. Unable itself to feel pain, your handheld device can never put itself in your place. So leave the cold rationality, the insensitivity, to the overpriced 2 dimensional screen you feel obliged to carry around with you and check impulsively mainly because that's what everybody else does. But know that there are still some of us who do not. Have some humanity. You are 3D. That third dimension is where all the fun is at. And surfing Facebook really isn't such a good time, is it? It's hard on the eyes. As is reading this. So I'll stop for now.

Oh and if I ever need a Uber to come visit you, you can always call me a cab.

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