Sometimes I think of my phone as my best friend.
Five years ago, I wrote an essay called Time Travel. I dismissed our current technological acuity as lightweight, more focused on entertaining ourselves with our cell phones than fixing the actual problems that plague society. Mostly, I focused on the severe diseases left unsolved from the past couple of centuries—cancer, Aids, Alzheimer’s.
When I wrote Time Travel, I didn’t have a cell phone. I wouldn’t have one. I thought of people glued to their phones as sheep, or maybe mind controlled—more attached to their vaporous Facebook friendships than the people standing next to them. More likely to stare at their tiny screen than the trees lining the street. The whole cell phone revolution disgusted me. I felt above it.
This certainty faded a few years ago along with several other indisputable beliefs when I successfully medicated my OCD. Now I see the utility of my cell phone, it’s a mind-boggling tool, although I still work hard to avoid giving the impression that I’m addicted to it.
I thought about Time Travel—the post, not the activity—several times throughout the pandemic. As we developed treatments and vaccines for Covid, I wondered if I should revisit the topic. We still haven’t cured Aids, but we did an admirable job with the coronavirus.
Since my stepmother died a month ago, I feel like I’ve lived in my car. My father lives an hour and a half away, and I drove this trip many times over the past few weeks. My cell phone made that running around bearable. I stayed in contact with Susan and my kids, my brothers and even my dad (he got his first smartphone last year). I always had great music to listen to, and my ability to open apps like email and Facebook created the illusion that I never left town.
During my many trips driving back and forth to DC, I tried to put myself in the mindset of twenty-year-old me. What would I think about a 2022 smartphone in 1983?
~ ~ ~
What’s that in your hand?
This? It’s my phone.
Phone? It looks like a little TV.
Well, it can be that too.
What are you talking about?
Pick a memorable scene from a TV show.
Um, the WKRP turkey drop.
<Fiddle, fiddle> This is Les Nessman, your man at the scene here at the Pinedale Shopping Center where the excitement is mounting…
It has every TV show ever made?
Sort of. Lots of them. Movies too.
Why do you carry a TV around with you?
I don’t actually watch TV on it. It does other stuff. I can read the news.
Like a newspaper? It’s too small.
All the newspapers. You get used to the size. Ask me about the music.
It plays music?
I can listen to almost any song ever recorded.
Cowgirl in the Sand?
Why, what happened to Neil Young?
Something by The Creatures then?
Obscure. Let me see.
<Fiddle, fiddle> Giant sized flowers, giant sized bugs, giant sized gecko is making his path…
Whoa. Does that song get popular or something?
No, you and I are the only ones who know it. I don’t have a music collection any more, just my phone.
Why is it called a phone?
People make calls with them, but only when it’s absolutely necessary. Usually, we talk to each other by typing short messages.
That sounds stupid. What else does it do?
It has a camera.
Where does the film go?
No film, everything’s digital.
What does that mean?
Never mind. It has books in it too.
Really? How many?
As many as you want. Books don’t take up much space.
How is that possible? I have shelves and shelves of them in my house.
Oh, and it can navigate. It has maps for everywhere in the world. They talk to you; they tell you when to turn. No more getting lost.
This is just like Star Trek. What else in the world has changed?
Not a thing. Oh, and Jeff?
Buy Apple stock. Buy a lot.