My phone is my favorite possession. I wish I could pretend it has been some torrid courtship, that after much cat-and-mousing the two of us succumbed to our mutual attraction and decided to settle down and make an honest go of it, but I can’t: I am in breathless pursuit, hustling to keep her updated and paid for, wooing her with expensive protective cases and as many off-brand charging cords as there are outlets in my home. She acknowledges this attention with occasional notifications, blinking on the screen, reminders to update, so many needs. That makes me want her even more.
I know that having her carelessly bouncing around the bottom of my bag all day and on the nightstand inches from my sleeping face, readily available for when I need to look up “recipes for morons” or “the best way to wash a cat,” is putting my precious information at risk. My phone is always listening, and through a series of bloops and bleeps I do not understand, the data I have spewed into the universe gets sold and fed back to me in a targeted Instagram ad for whatever it is I now urgently need.
I don’t know how thrilled I am to be giving up my secrets, but it’s foolish to think I have any control over them, and ultimately I don’t care. I love convenience and entertainment too much to worry about how much information I cannot control is being leaked to marketers, retailers, the government and whatever Chinese intelligence agency controls the barrage of ads for $13 dresses that saturate my feed.
Maybe it’s because I got in the smartphone game late and have a real memory of how inconvenient life used to be.
I’m staring down the barrel of my 40th year, and the first computer I bought for myself was six or seven years ago. I didn’t get my first iPhone until they’d been around for years, partly because I was like: “Who needs that? I prefer to live in the real world!” but mostly because the idea of walking around with a $500 computer in my pocket seemed dangerous. And the idea that I could somehow scrape together the money to purchase said pocket computer while also maintaining a roof over my head (read: partying all the time and paying for cable) was hilarious and unrealistic. I was the last dinosaur at the club sending multi-tap texts on a Nokia E51 with no camera.
When I finally upgraded, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. O.K., sure, this glowing rectangle in my bag can tell me the weather anywhere in the world at this exact moment, but who cares? Wait, it can also figure out exactly what wrong street I’m turning down and steer me back in the right direction? And it counted how many steps I took? While also storing all the passwords I can never remember? Please excuse me while I build this shrine to the new most important thing in my life.
That is how it gets you. I was a skeptic and then I was a convert almost immediately. I have long understood that I am a tiny, powerless cog in the wheel of modern America, plus I’m not a hacker, so what do I even know about keeping things hidden? Is it even possible for me, a regular person who cannot figure out how to program the television remote, to circumvent the eyes of all of the faceless technology corporations analyzing my information? What am I going to do, cheat Amazon? Outsmart Google? No, I’m going to do what everyone else does: enter my credit card information when prompted and get that thing I need two days from when I decided I needed it.
A few months ago I went to dinner with the kind of people whose idea of fun is to correct your pronunciation of “niçoise,” and they boldly suggested that we all put our phones face down in the center of the table for the entirety of the meal and what felt like a needlessly lingering discussion afterward.
Now, I didn’t die. But I also didn’t know what time it was. Or if anyone had texted me. And I’m not really a “post a picture of my fancy meal” kind of person, but I could tell that other people wanted to. The air was heavy with missed opportunity. And you know what we talked about while cringing internally as the carafe of still water we actually had to pay for came perilously close to splashing on our helpless devices every time it was passed?
TV shows, which you can watch on a phone. Books, which, if your eyes haven’t already burned through the back of your skull from being on your phone all the time, you can read on your phone. Murder podcasts, which are specifically made to be listened to on a phone.
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Yes, your phone is potentially hazardous to whatever semblance of security you might have. Yes, there are many medical professionals who would attest to the deleterious effect modern technology has on the brains and interpersonal skills of adults. But hear me out: Maybe it’s worth it?
My phone knows so much about me. It knows where I am, how many steps I took to get there, the whisper of a thought I don’t remember even fully forming in my brain that somehow made its way to a search engine. It also knows I am addicted, which is why it doesn’t ever really have to worry about whether I’m creeped out by the digital eyes I can feel looking over my shoulder.
Not long ago, Apple put a screen-time feature on the iPhone that’s supposed to, I don’t know, shame me into putting down the drug it won’t stop selling me. I use the statistics it collects as a challenge to spend even more time messing around on my phone. Only one hour and 37 minutes of social networking yesterday, you say? Let me put this informative book I was reading down and try to top that. But my phone already knows that’s what I’d want to do.