The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 25, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

The iPhone and I

About a month and a half ago, I bought an iPhone 4S. I upgraded from a Samsung SCH-a870, which is one of those old clamshells that's only half a step more advanced than the brick-phone that Zack Morris used to carry around on "Saved by the Bell."

I wasn't so excited to get the iPhone. In fact, I was sort of dreading it, the way I - dragged along by the march of progress - dread making any improvement to my life via purchases that'll ask me to read their instruction manuals and change the way I do things. My iPod had died, however, and I needed a new device on which to listen to audiobooks. I realized that it would be easier, maybe, to carry around only one gadget, instead of two.

The other reason I decided to get the iPhone is that - humiliating as it is to admit - my brothers and I still belong to some Verizon family mobile plan whose bill my father pays every month. Tony and Zach, who are 25 and 15, respectively, have both had iPhones for a while, and it seemed wrong to me that I should be the only one saving my dad money by forgoing an expensive data plan - I felt I was being ripped off, so to speak, in my freeloading.

Nevertheless, I was sort of embarrassed to sign up for an iPhone contract that would, for some considerable monthly cost that I no longer remember, allow me to surf the Web from my phone, when in fact I already had the Internet at home and had always gotten along just fine without any on-the-go access. I didn't think I'd use it much. I knew my Samsung was obsolete, but I felt vaguely resentful about having been roped into this new, costlier way of doing things, even if I wasn't footing the bill.

Contrary to my expectations, however, I found myself from the very beginning using my mobile Internet all the time. It's addictive. I check my e-mail, and I check NBA box scores. I look up movie show-times and addresses. When I'm at the store and thinking of buying a beer that I've never heard of, I check for reviews. During a debate at work, I verify the 1936 Best Picture winner (it was "Mutiny on the Bounty"). I keep up with James Fallows's blog.

Even as a longtime hater of the few Apple products I've used in my life (is iTunes the worst software ever created?), I have to admit that the iPhone is actually a pretty great machine. It's attractive and intuitive. The camera is better than a lot of the independent digital cameras I've owned.

Siri -Apple's personal-assistant software- isn't as useful as you might hope, and I find myself annoyingly conscious of sounding like a jerk when I have to dictate voice commands to her in public (if Siri were male, I'd probably feel less bad about bossing her around in front of people), but even she has her uses and can, sometimes, pull up in seconds information that, by normal browsing, would take a couple minutes to find.

The iPhone has some issues - for example, it has trouble recognizing whether you're holding it vertically or horizontally and so it frequently won't reset its keyboard to accommodate you.

But the truth is, after a month and a half, I can't imagine going back. The problem isn't that I've purchased something I don't use; the problem is that I've become dependent on another thing that I used to be fine without.

Is this how life goes for us? Will I accumulate more and more absolutely-necessary electronic accoutrements until, one day, in the words of Obi-Wan, I'll be more machine than man?

It would be reassuring to find, after buying the iPhone, that you really don't need it - that you have enough internal resources not to become bored on a bus ride without music, that you're adventurous enough to want to buy a bottle of craft beer without checking the reviews, that you're smart enough to know which movie won Best Picture in 1936 without looking it up - even if this meant that you'd wasted your money. But, after all, you're not superhuman; you're regular-human, and regular humans aren't that great. They need help.

Smart companies and inventors find needs we didn't know we had, and they fill them. We need high-speed Internet. We need HD. We need DVR. We need artificial lungs. By the year 2050, how many needs will we have? How many devices will we need to fill them?

People who shun technology tend to admire themselves for it - they're better people because they can make do with less. In my mind, they're taking the easier way out: technology points out our inadequacies. And our inadequacies are easier to ignore if we ignore the technology. The value of the rejection is, to me, spurious - simple-living types "get along just fine" without the iPhone, but in the same way that people "got along just fine" without antibiotics: it doesn't mean their lives were better. Luddites applaud themselves for their ability to say no, but every "no" carries an implicit "yes" to something else, the opposite, and in this case the yes is to more boredom and less information and less efficiency - less living, really.

Still, it must feel good to feel complete without any buzzing gizmos in your pocket, without paying a big bill to a phone company or a cable company - to get by with humbler devices: a bicycle instead of a car, a book instead of a Kindle.

On the other hand, if we were really Spartan, we could drop the books and bicycles as well. (These, too, are inventions, additions, unessential.) At some point, though, we'd have to stop saying no: if we reject McDonald's, we must accept some other kind of food. "No" takes you only so far. "Yes" just keeps going and going and going.

Tagged: generation y, Gen Y