I have been noticing some rather dismissive comments on the Internet about people using cell phones in public, and I suppose because I use my phone in public I feel it is incumbent for someone, let it be me, to offer a coherent defense of the practice. Stand by to get pissed off, but bear in mind this blog comes to you through my phone cameras. No smart phone = no pictures. And let me say right here that my iPhone cameras are not complete, they have no telephoto and I find depth of field difficult to accomplish with a camera that always wants perfect focus everywhere all the time. But taking pictures, storing them and downloading them is easy and free. I count $5 a year for Picasa storage to be as free as anything considering they give me more storage space than I can use in a lifetime. So no, I will continue to look at my phone when I want to. Here's why:
If you want to have a conversation with me you have got some serious competition on my little screen. Standing in line at the grocery store I am more inclined to read my Kindle than I am to listen to a stranger talk about the weather Up North, her pet's incontinence or her family's health. These are subjects that I value in people I see day to day, people with whom I can converse and get to know, and share my dry sense of humor with, but a stranger dropping a conversational bomb in line at the supermarket, some intimacy or disaster of a personal nature, is an example of bad public manners than me reading my phone. In the same way I don't need the clerk commenting on my purchases as I like the anonymity of shopping for myself. I don't view grocery shopping as a social expedition.
I have my own issues, I know, and small talk doesn't come easily to me so hiding inside my phone is a huge blessing for me in public spaces. Maybe I don't want to make eye contact, people with Asperger's like me are known for such behavior and having a phone to read makes walking around in public so much easier. Not a hugely valid excuse I grant you but there it is. I have no idea how to talk sports, weather or fishing with strangers. I'm much more interested in Greece defaulting, the Supreme Court wrecking Obamacare or why Canada is making citizenship easily revoked. Not likely the subject of conversation in most lines I find myself overhearing.
Public cell phone use is now the object of study in scholarly magazines.From Psychology Today Magazine,
"This isn’t addiction. This is social interaction. When you conduct your social life via text, keeping track of your cell phone takes on particular importance. Older adults, like me, shouldn’t make judgments about cell phone use in younger adults, or at least we should withhold the negative evaluations of people constantly checking their cell phones. Perhaps instead we can respect the cell phone and internet natives. These young adults have grown up using cell phones and the internet. They’ve learned to effectively maintain and enhance (and sometimes end) social relationships through the ether. Maybe they will be more engaged with and attached to their social groups than older adults who are still learning to keep in touch in the modern era."
I was delighted when GPS came to boating; having the ability to track one's course across an empty body of water was fantastic. I hated traditional technology, I was useless with sextants and mathematics but GPS was lovely and reassuring. Then GPS came to cars and land navigation and I thought it was clunky and useless to a map reader like me. My wife, an abysmal map navigator loved the GPS mapping in her phone. She became an expert navigator in our car. I slowly saw the value of GPS and now I can say it is a valuable tool on my phone. The fact is most people don't know their own way round their neighborhoods. People just aren't very curious, so when a stranger comes up and asks directions they just shrug. Yesterday a tourist wanted to know where to find Key deer. I gave him accurate directions with landmarks from memory to No Name Key. When was the last time you asked a gas station attendant (really a mini mart clerk) the way to someplace? How did that work for you? My phone leads right up to my destination no matter where it is. Plus it figures out where the road is blocked and diverts me without even asking. Bloody amazing. Mind you, I grew up in an old fashioned world so I still retain my ability to understand maps and place myself on the face of the Earth as needed. My world view isn't limited to my electronic map. My other new technology break through has been Skype, seen here with my business partner discussing our project in a phone meeting.
The team I have assembled to build my invention stretches from South Florida's mainland where my partner the engineer lives, and Central Florida where our Attorney does her patent magic, to New York where my Marketing guy works to Pennsylvania where the Executive Producer lives (the guy who raises money) to California where the Sales Manager lives. And we communicate in ways that two decades ago were barely functional. E-mails, texts/SMS photos and notes as attachments, and Skype, all free and relatively easy making a combined effort possible. I'm supposed to want to revert to an abacus and parchment? Hell no. If the technology offends I say too bad, this is how we do it, my phone means I can communicate from anywhere to anywhere and that for me is liberation. And then there is the human touch.
In the photo above I'm wearing a t-shirt offered to readers of the blog Rocket and Me published by an architect in Jacksonville who rides Vespas madly and who I have never met. Except online. He offered t-shirts with designs of his new blog page created by his daughter, and I took him up on it. Who knows if that counts as a relationship worth having or is it a relationship at all? Will it become one when we inveterate travelers meet? Beats me but there it is, an internet connection, and without my phone it wouldn't exist at all. I am a man who has an all consuming curiosity, I like to explore and having the power of an infinite number of encyclopedias in my pocket amazes me every day. My phone has a flashlight, cameras, a weather forecaster, a speedometer, maps, books, newspapers, a note pad, a telephone and the modern equivalent of a telegram, an alarm clock a television and a calculator. I'm supposed to wish it didn't exist? I love that I can hide behind my phone. All you extroverts have to remember that we shy people don't want to talk, we don't know where to look as you walk towards us, we have no fund of small talk for strangers. Our phones are our smokescreen. Don't assume that because I'm looking at my phone I don't know what's going on around me or that I don't appreciate the natural world. Perhaps I enjoy it more when you aren't in my line of sight forcing me to look away and feel awkward.
My wife and I met at Roostica for several appetizers on Stock Island the other evening. I made a note for my phone diary to remember to meet her (!) and we talked for forty minutes before I left to go to work. We've been married for going on 21 years and we still have plenty to talk about. At home we read in the same room, watch Netflix, and choose to ignore each other or the outside world from time to time. She puts up with my picture taking, and occasionally encourages it. She is not alone in standing by while I look at the world through my own eyes and the phone camera. I swear sometimes Cheyenne gets pissed at me for forcing her to share our walks with my phone.
I don't feel like apologizing for my phone. I guess in the end that's all there is to it. I like my phone and my iPhone a purchase required by my new business, has grown on me to be quite the useful companion, more so even than my old Android. My wife says that from reluctant Luddite I have become a smart phone aficionado. An old dog learning new tricks.