My iPhone Addiction

Thu, Jan 12, 2012

Pure Water

During the Christmas holidays, I had my comeuppance. I had to face my family and confess that I had lost my iPhone. Two weeks earlier, while moving my daughter home from university for the holidays, she lost her Blackberry. She hadn’t even owned it for a month and it vanished in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s. Oh the lectures I gave! The haranguing I did! I told her, we might as well burn hundred dollar bills for fun. I told her, we might as well treat the telcos as registered charities and give them our money. And then, in one of those karmic twists that makes my life look a late-night reality TV rerun, I found myself standing before my daughter, head bowed, hearing my own words chimed back at me. To be fair, my daughter felt badly for me. She knew that, as hard as I had been on her, I was ten times as hard on myself.

I’ve always been resistant to the idea of cellphones. I blogged about my first cellphone and my disappointment at its failure to live up to the hype. Talk of convergence was premature. Now, with people reading War & Peace on their iPhones and taking photos with their iPads, I wonder if the idea of convergence is just wrong-headed; single-purpose devices have a place after all. I also wrote about what has come to be known as the “digital divide.” Cellular technology draws clear lines around those who are marginalized from the mainstream. And many of those who do use cellphones struggle to maintain their accounts, yet feel they have no choice if they want to stay connected.

Nevertheless, I relented. Like all conscientious middle-class parents, we got a family plan and tied up our children with digital leashes. Call, text, tweet, post to Facebook. Let us know where you are. If we can’t reach you on a Saturday night, know that we cower in the dark, growing more anxious by the minute, certain that you’ve been mugged, or worse. I know you think this is annoying, but we worry because we love you.

On the Wednesday after Christmas day, my wife and I went for a morning coffee at Balzac’s in the Distillery District. We sat in the loft, iPhones propped beside our mugs and catching up on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, sharing with one another whatever we learned. From there, we drove to the St. Lawrence Market, parking (perhaps portentously) in front of the Rogers store on Front Street. While my wife waited for an order at the butcher’s, I called my son to make sure he was awake. We left and, on the way home, stopped at a local grocery store. Once home, I reached to my right hip where I keep my iPhone clipped to my belt and felt nothing. Damn, where was my phone? I checked my coat pocket and, again, nothing. Returning my hand to my hip, I felt a plastic tab slide from under the belt—it was the clip from the holster I used to hold the phone. It had snapped from the case.

I’ve lost it, I said.

I ran back to the grocery store to ask if they’d found anything while my wife called the security office at St. Lawrence Market.

I was astonished at my own reaction. This stuff belongs in a psychology journal. First came paranoia: all my personal info is on that phone; somebody will hack my phone, then steal all my passwords—email accounts, bank accounts, social media sites, Paypal, blog. I spent the next hour and a half changing all my passwords, making sure they were unique and strong, uppercase, lowercase, numbers, punctuation. Next came anger, most of it directed at myself. How could I have been so stupid not to have noticed that I lost my phone? Mostly I was angry at myself for being so hard on my daughter about her lost phone. How could I have been so insensitive? The third and most surprising reaction was anxiety, not a generalized anxiety, but an acute feeling that I imagine would be closely associated with the experience of addiction. Words like withdrawal and cold turkey come to mind. In a single moment of carelessness, I had cut myself off from my social networks, my email, messaging, phone calls, photos, music, ebooks. What was I going to do with myself? I needed a fix.

After lunch, I went to Rogers with my old Motorola flip phone and got a new sim card. At least I would have phone service, and even texting, but when I tried to text, it didn’t feel the same. Although I’ve never been to a methadone clinic, my visit to the Rogers store was probably like to visit a methadone clinic. It gave me enough of a fix to get me over the initial symptoms of withdrawal, but it just wasn’t the same. I told the guy at the counter what had happened and he shook his head. He said: Losing an iPhone is like losing cash; you’re never gonna see it again.

That night, I lay in bed and tried to imagine life without an iPhone. I tried to persuade myself that I could get along just fine with an old Motorola flip phone. I told myself it was an act of resistance. Losing the iPhone was really my subconscious brain forcing me to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ll opt out of the mainstream. Social media trivializes communication. It’s just a smokescreen for media conglomerates to monetize social space. Next thing you know, they’ll be putting up billboards between my synapses. I fell asleep with visions of myself as a new media hermit skulking off to my virtual cave.

The next morning I was a wreck. I ate breakfast without knowing what was going on in the world. I tried to walk the dog, but didn’t know what to wear outside because I had no weather app. I threw up my trembling hands and ran to the Rogers store. The guy smiled; he knew I’d be back; he’d seen this sort of thing before. He said it was horrible to see what can happen, even to a grown man.

My name is Dave and I’m an iPhone-a-holic. It’s true. I didn’t last even one day without an iPhone. It would be easy to grow discouraged, to conclude that all my ideals have been lost to a hunk of addictive socio-techno-candy. But not quite; there is an upside to this story.

Exactly one week after I lost my iPhone, I got a call from the Rogers store on Front Street. A passer-by had found an iPhone on the sidewalk and handed it in to the store. Although the phone wouldn’t start or recharge, they used the sim card to trace my account. An honest person. Who would’ve thought?

When I picked up the phone, it was clear that there had been some corrosion on the USB contacts. It had probably seen a bit of weather. I took it to the Apple store, hoping they could clean the contacts. Instead, because the phone was under warranty, they simply replaced it. When I got home, I gave it to my daughter. Isn’t that the way it goes with addiction?


Thanks to my brother-in-law, Paul Acheson, for posing with his iPhone in the photo above.

mental health, pop culture, web/tech

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