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Davis, California

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Column: Wirelessly bound

So you’re at your favorite, fervently frequented, friendly neighborhood café, whittling away at your 10-page thesis on “Why banana peels turn from yellow to brown,” which you’ve totally had the past six weeks to work on, but that dastardly charlatan known as “life” got in your way.

Between every painstakingly pecked-out line, you stop to check your emails, your text messages and of course, to browse Facebook and post a status along the lines of “Stressed out to the max! Why does this paper have to be due on the same day as my Intermediate Symbolic Logic midterm?”

All of this is done on your wonderful little smartphone. Chances are it’s an iPhone, America’s little darling.

Once exhausted of your immediate go-tos for “recharging your mental battery,” you decide to take a look around the café and see what your fellow patrons are up to.

You observe a young couple at an adjacent table, and your eyes begin to mist over in awe and admiration.

They’re sitting, facing each other, eyes cast downward, engrossed in their phones. Ah, how sweet love can be! Their mutual fixation to their phones is symbolic of their adoration for each other.

Blessed is the day when two people can have sincere human interaction between one another without even speaking!

Everywhere you go, people will have their phones whipped out; they may genuinely be busy in important matters like getting their next high score on Temple Run, or they may be passing the time in some inane manner like reading the news or checking up on the weather.

They also make excellent social commas. We all know the maneuver where you’re with a friend and they suddenly bump into someone they know, or need to excuse themselves to the restroom: the cell phone gets pulled out automatically, as if it were the most natural response. One swift, fluid hand motion into your pocket and out comes the cell phone.

“Oh would you look at that! The moment I lost your attention I suddenly have very urgent matters to attend to on my phone. How serendipitous!”

But beside being a merciless, ruthless, cold-blooded killer of time and a fantastic way to look preoccupied, our phones serve as our ever-present and ever-faithful social Swiss army knives.

They really do everything!

Even vibrate.

Therein lies the conundrum. With our phones being so “essential” to our lives, there is a level of disconnect that comes with them. It’s hard to define what genuine human interaction is. But my gut is telling me that two people who are sitting face to face, yet simultaneously transfixed by a 4.7 inch active-matrix organic light-emitting diode screen, wouldn’t fit that bill.

And it doesn’t stop there. You can now legitimately end relationships with a few words sent via your amazing little screen. You don’t have to talk to said person personally. In fact, you don’t even need to hear their voice.

It’s your friend’s birthday? Who ever heard about sending them birthday cards or baking a cake? A quick “happy bday” via text will suffice. Spelling out the word birthday is just too unnecessary. You’ve got to save your manual dexterity for Angry Birds after all.

Don’t get me wrong, with the advent of smartphones, the world has become a vastly different place — in many ways a better one. But it seems that some of us have forgotten what it was like before Apple’s wondrous black rectangles descended from heaven and into our pockets.

Should we even bother going back to the simpler days where two people could chat over a coffee without fear or want of checking their phone? When the preferred mean of passing time was a yo-yo? Back to the days where you would check to see if you had your pocket watch and handkerchief in your pockets before leaving rather than your cell phone, wallet and keys. Or are those days as dead and gone as the dinosaurs and vampires?

It honestly doesn’t matter either way. How people choose to spend their time together is entirely up to them. I, for one, would like to put a little more attention into my relations with people. So if you ever see me fidgeting with my cell phone while I’m in the presence of others, you have full permission to swat it out of my hands.

ANDREW POH is always checking his email on his smartphone, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with him at apoh@ucdavis.edu. 


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