Friday, August 06, 2021


 I am a longtime holdout against smartphones, but during the course of COVID I received word that my old dumb phone would soon cease functioning. AT&T was shutting down its 3G network, in favor of 5G, and even though I'd read articles about how the wavelengths a 5G network uses were going to make weather prediction less accurate and therefore would endanger people as climate change got worse, it was nonetheless insisting on itself as the way of the world, and old devices would need to be replaced. I did not particularly want to shop for a new phone during a global pandemic, but I also hate shopping, for anything other than food, books, or records, in general. Every decision feels too major, too big to be left to only me. I feel often like I am doing it wrong, making mistakes. And, in turn, I do: I buy the wrong bedding because I forget the word for the size of of my bed and do not discover my mistake until its too late. My computer's mouse stopped functioning and I was under the mistaken impression I had to buy another Apple product to replace it, unaware cheaper versions would be compatible with my computer. In actual fact, the Apple mouse I purchased was incompatible, because I haven't updated my OS in years.

My hesitancy to participate in the regular upgrading of technology has made all the ways things are designed to be convenient not convenient at all, and in fact incredibly intimidating. Part of me knows that I need to get over this, and adjust to the world as it's currently constructed. Another part of is unsure there are any actual benefits to doing so. Yes, there are now restaurants that will not give you a physical menu in favor of telling you to scan a QR code to look up the menu on your phone. Getting a COVID vaccine, I was similarly told to scan a QR code for some reason I've since forgotten. The most popular dating apps exist entirely on smartphones with no website equivalent, and these are increasingly how anyone meets anybody else. People stream music constantly, there are major releases by rappers I once kept up with I now have no real idea how to hear.

So when my phone company offered my a free smartphone, I thought, ok, maybe this will be good for me. From the mouse debacle I'd learned that Apple products were a total scam, and so I thought that at least maybe if I didn't get an iPhone I might still have an edge. Immediately after agreeing to have a Samsung Galaxy sent to me, I started to panic. I despise typing on a touchscreen keyboard, it is incredibly slow, the predictive text and autocorrect meant to make it easier I find nightmarish, causing miscommunication, slowing me down further, and cause me to interface with an AI that is attempting to mirror my cognition when all I want is to outsmart it or be original and unpredictable enough my pattern can't be anticipated by anyone outside myself. Similarly, I don't want my moves monitored, my data harvested, to be advertised to constantly on a device designed to sell me things.

Admittedly, the prospect of a dating app holds allure. I moved to Philadelphia not long before the pandemic began, I don't know very many people here at all, and my social circle I've met through mutual friends is almost all male in a way that actually strikes me as completely bizarre. However, I also very quickly realized that I don't have the emotional wherewithal to present myself to strangers as fun and interesting, given the way in which the pandemic is affecting the way society is made up, I don't know what restaurants people go to, I am only now considering the idea of going to the movies again. Also the whole thing is just a mechanism of being reminded where one stands in terms of people's split-second evaluation of one's sexual desirability, which is a very harsh prospect where I've never fared well. It is absolutely better for me as a person to not try to engage with a mechanism that views relationships as transactional, for the sake of my self-esteem as well as just what I understand to be the human soul.

I did not expect the device to arrive the next day. A friend of mine pointed out later that that's the whole point of having a smartphone, that you are a part of a world where things are just delivered to you immediately, as soon as you ask for them, through dating apps, meal delivery apps, grocery store personal shopping apps, Amazon Prime, Spotify, etc. Not yet an initiate, I found the box in my mail pile and inspected it thinking about how I didn't have any cassette tapes coming to me before I realized what it was. Unpacking it, it seemingly turned itself on, and began to introduce itself to me, with text boxes taking me through a series of steps I was not sure I wanted to do. Immediately I was being asked to participate in practices I thought I would want to avoid but was not really able to circumvent. For instance, I was told "cloud storage" would be free for a first month, and then data rates would apply, unless I canceled it; there did not seem to be a way to just opt out of this. For me the strangest thing is that it was asking me to join a Wi-fi network: I'm not really sure why I need to do that, considering the whole point of a phone and 5G is that it is connecting to a a system of satellites. I am typing to you on a desktop computer that connects to the internet through a wireless router; there's a password to the network but it's so long I don't immediately know it. So I tried to skip that step as well, and so my smartphone has yet to become actually functional. There are apps loaded up that are waiting to update, but all of the information is incorrect in ways I can't manually adjust: The date and calendar are off. Apparently the phone can still call 911, but any other phone call or text is forbidden to me. At least on that device, my 3G phone still works and is how I am able to communicate.

This gives me time to do a tedious task, which is manually add my contacts I've accrued over the course of a decade-plus that are stored on a sim card incompatible with the more advanced technology. Apparently transfers of this information is done over bluetooth, which my old phone does not possess. So instead the other day I copied all the names and numbers I have stored into a notebook, so I can begin adding them to the memory of this new machine, so I can use it for the only thing I am comfortable using a phone for. This is its own melancholy process, as I wonder how many people I will ever talk to again, who of the people I maybe technically still consider friends might not necessarily ever have reason to contact me again and who I may not be inclined to contact myself on second thought. The act of culling down hundreds of contacts to the thirty or fifty most likely to send me a message I would want to be immediately aware of the context of is humbling in the most nauseating way this side of of physical sickness.

So I've sat here feeling awful about this device any time I think of it, knowing I will need to return it in exchange for something else, and that while I received this thing for free I might need to pay for something more specialized, that terms and conditions might apply to a return, or asking a professional for assistance in making this maelstrom more manageable. I feel truly awful about it. The benefits of a smartphone are so meager I'm not sure why anyone chooses them. Every ringtone sounds godawful.

Another one of the first things I did with this new phone was give it a password, not thinking that this meant I would need to enter it anew every time I looked away from it, which I did an awful lot of during the beginnings of the project of entering numbers in. This is something that seemed reasonable but I just immediately regretted, a move made in anticipation of some fear that someone might someday want to steal this thing I received for free and already regard as a burden. The screen goes black when I look away, I push a little button and each time one of a rotation of generic backgrounds pops up to sicken me because I have not settled on imagery favored to reassure me, the way my computer's desktop background of a Bill Sienkiewicz drawing of Nancy and Sluggo as rendered as features on a xenomorph does. Similarly, the photos of people that perhaps would pop up when they call me to let me know what they look like beyond my knowledge of their name I don't know how to access. I am not on Instagram and have been assured it's annoying. I have never been on Facebook, although I know I have a shadow profile thanks to everyone on it that has my number in their phone, this includes my mother, who Facebook has inundated with enough right-wing garbage shared by people she considers friends that she does not plan to ever get a COVID vaccine. I was on Twitter for years, and remain addicted to browsing it, but I was kicked off years ago and so the only way I could ever again have a timeline would be if I started a new account that would never be as popular as the one I had, now that its timeline is more algorithmic in a way that punishes new accounts. I would never join Tiktok, nor would I ever watch a movie on my phone. The only thing that interests me about the powers this device can wield that an older phone could not is its ability to access maps and mp3s. I touch the screen and it just gets gross and greasy, reminding me I'm meant to buy a customized case that maybe is indicative of my idea of myself. I really cannot think about it without feeling its own fingers crawling along the wrinkles of my brain whose reward centers it wants desperately to alter.

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