I do not have an iPhone. I don’t begrudge you having one, of course, and I have all manner of similar i-prefixed devices, like the Pad and the Pod. For a cell phone, I use a Blackberry, which, being a smartphone, you could argue is just as conversation-stalling and distracting as an iPhone. I don’t find it so, just because it’s comparatively slow and filled with stuff (what stuff? I don’t know) that takes up a lot of space; all this and the camera is broken. Sometimes I feel like I’m self-flagellating by not buying an iPhone, punishing myself for using the internet too much and trying to somehow reverse the trend of thinking of media as a “place” where I “am.” This trend is not something I particularly want to reverse, but I’d prefer it not to seep any more deeply into the fabric of me as a human being. I would not want to become opaque with apps, blogging capabilities revealing themselves in line at the grocery or standing around doing nothing. I think of these as opportunities for thought (to be later used for the purposes of blogging of course) and reflection (even better for blogging!) and the loss of those opportunities, I fear, might make me into the kind of person who lacks imagination and feels like she constantly has to report on where she is or what she’s doing. Then again, I can appreciate your iPhone, especially your koi pond app and the Wakelight app, and I sometimes think, “Oh, Tess, could it really get any worse? Why are you resisting your impulse to buy an entertaining gadget? Is that really something that adds to your internal moral checking account?”
But here is my real problem with iPhones, with the distinction that it bothers me less when you do it than thinking of myself doing it: we’re having a conversation about a guy you met in a bar in Brooklyn. Describing him is fine but you’d prefer me to form my own opinion so you show me his Facebook on your iPhone. This takes a little while and we mostly talk about the quickness with which your iPhone is able to load the page during the wait. Now I’ve seen him and know him basically as well as you do: you don’t need to tell me that he’s into jam bands and just got out of a bad breakup. I just download that shit from his page. We sip our coffee and now it’s time for you to tell me about his text messages to you the following night, except it’s a little easier to just show me the texts, because so much nuance is lost when you just describe the “yo…you still up?” and then the immediate follow-up, “nevermind :)” — so I see them. In little bubbles on a screen. Which is also fine because there is a certain subtext in the capitalization and the emoticon and the time stamp: how can a person form an opinion other than by searching for meaning in empirical data? The iPhone sits back down and lets us talk, but now we’re both staring at the iPhone waiting for another text or to inspire the next segue: he lives in Topanga, how far is that? Is it due west? Slightly south from here? And what would be the best way to drive from Sherman Oaks to Topanga on a Friday when one can assume that there would be various complicated traffic patterns due to the layout of private schools in the area? At these times, I both wish and do not wish to have an iPhone. If I am telling you a story, I have no way to prove that anything I say is truthful. My phone is mostly a phone. I can use BBM but I hate to because you can see when I receive your text and then you can see that I turn my phone off and ignore it. I guess I have a web browser but it often only loads text and you can only see the first page of TMZ, as if you only deserve the most important information from any one site because after you have exhausted the BREAKING NEWS it’s probably best for you to get back to driving and wait until you get home for the details (according to my Blackberry). I would never show anyone anything on my Blackberry because it would be like showing them a cave drawing of a person’s face and then asking them the question, “So, he doesn’t look too much like Elliot Gould, right?”
The iPhone also serves as a definitive argument-ender in scenarios like the one following: David swears that “oviparous” is a term that relates to mammals, while Janice is insistent that he means “ovoviparous” and that “oviparous” actually means an animal that lays eggs. David and Janice are at a fancy dinner party, sitting across from each other, empty bottles of wine everywhere. This conversation could be fascinating: Janice would tell David that she spent six months in Peru studying indigenous wildlife and during that time learned all about the different reproductive habits of the elusive leaf monkey, while David would seethe across from her readying his counterpoint: “Janice, I took Latin” — he pounds the table and a wine bottle falls over — “for seventeen years.” Then he’s on to his time in the Congo and she’s realizing (although David is still wrong) how gently the years have treated him, the softness of his mouth, how it’s been quite some time since she divorced Charlie and David has never really settled down. They are looking at each other and listening to each other and for a while, neither one of them is right. Until Janice remembers something: she has an iPhone in the purse tucked under the table between her ankles (she should have left it on the table, so as not to forget its existence, though how could she?), and she whips it out and proves that she’s right. Not only is she right, but she proves how difficult it was to be right, because the auto-correct function suggest “oviparous” when she types “ovoviparous” and there’s a tense moment when she thinks she made up the whole classification herself. She types and clicks and proves until David sinks into his chair and says excuse me, I’ve had a lot of wine, I think I better go. Janice thinks, “Fine! I have email to check!” and the whole interesting crisis and love connection has been averted and rendered out like fat in a pan.
I have an inclination towards this behavior, because I love to be right, but I also have an aversion to it because I hate to be wrong, and I like to lengthen the stretches of time during which I think I am right but am not. To call it ambiguity would be imprecise: I am still wrong, but I enjoy the illusion, and I enjoy the conversation during which you prove me wrong without an iPhone (because it’s more difficult for you); I could also not restrain myself from proving you wrong immediately and denying you the pleasure of trying to justify your foolish unfactuality.
I like to see pictures of your baby or your wife. I like to see photos of your cat or your plant. But when you say, “My parent’s cat has a face that looks kind of like Hitler’s face but also kind of like Kevin Corrigan,” I laugh. When you show me a picture of that same cat, I register nothing. Oh, look, a cat: got some white on its nose and some black below. You have decided that the photo is better if it looks like it was taken with a wind-up 5’ device in 1843 and this says something about you: I don’t know what it says but it gets into my brain and later I think, with some nebulous suspicion, “What kind of person deedles around with a picture of their cat like that? Why did she want her cat to seem antique? Does a person who takes this kind of picture have a sense of humor? Did she do it without thinking?” I don’t digest your descriptions anymore. You’re like a historian of your own life but you’re not putting in any of the good shit, it’s like a PowerPoint presentation of your day without any of the zippy commentary. How I miss when you would talk on and on about things and I never knew how much of it was true, if you really ate seventeen donuts or if you’re weighting things so I’d think you’re extra-piggy, if the guy really was the cutest guy you’d ever seen or if he just had a great sense of humor, if that’s due west or if over there is more actually due west. You are denying me your fibs and exaggerations! Your misfires and your unaided triumphs of intellect — the conversations we have while we wait.
But again: how can I be bothered by things like this when I would be the same way? The police scanner that I listen to while helicopters circle overhead holds serious interest for me. The Groupons and the sample sales I miss while I’m sitting in someone else’s chair, the music that I can only access in my car or my house, the photographic reminders of what I ate for dinner that I genuinely would like to revisit! I don’t like to deny myself pleasure or life-improving objects, especially just for the sake of feeling somehow vintage or superior — and by the way I get none of that from owning a Blackberry — but how can I capitulate to something that I feel would deprive me of the last shreds of actuality a person like me can embody? Like Janice, I would exist in two places: at the dinner table, and inside my iPhone, which like me knows the meaning of ovoviparous even though its spell-check does not, which knows the history of my life dating back to the day I bought my Apple computer.
Not everyone uses their iPhone this way, but I know I would. How could I not? The point of a tool is that it makes a task easier, and as humans we always like to do things in the easiest possible way, to conserve our precious energy and use it later hunting wildebeest. I am a primitive human: I like to be right, I like immediacy, and I enjoy pushing buttons on a thing and then having the thing light up and do something. Right now I’m like a heroin addict with diabetes: needles everywhere, but don’t use them for that. The iPhone has a little black tar in it, floating in coagulated blobs amongst the insulin. I would not be able to stop myself from shooting up in the car, at an audition, at dinner with you, in the middle of the night because I had the too-hot-too-colds and couldn’t stop wondering, like a CD skipping, which way is due west from here?
I love this.