My head was tilted in a strange direction. I was in such a rush to leave for work that morning that I managed to leave my iDevice on the table. I was now to face the day without my iThingy to stare at. On the subway, I saw all the lucky people who were able to be engaged in their devices. Screens everywhere but today, not for me. Some of those stuffed into the train car seemed to be reading things, others texting or sending the emails for work or setting up casual encounters for later. Some members of this assembled general public were smart enough to prepare for work the night before, to set out all their clothes, get to bed early, brush their teeth and remembered to take their phones. These dull-eyes but I assumed happy people were playing games, crushing candy, slicing fruit, arranging tiles, or cards. Others were listening to music loud enough that I didn’t need my own device to follow along with the high notes or bass of the tune being played.
As the train crawled to the meaty center of the city, more and more customers came on, pressing against one another in the fleshpot. After each person packed in, found their niche in the ecology of the commute, all took to bowing their heads in personal absorption except for a few, such as myself, with nothing to do. Just stay there, as I once had done back in the day, the day before cell phones. Most of the others I now looked at were elderly, or at least older than most. One, a large middle age man perhaps Latino or Hispanic or mestizo or what my great-grand mother’s uncle’s second wife’s ice delivery person may have called ‘Quadroon,’ just sat looking into space, distantly thinking about some memory of childhood or just stunned by the start of yet another work week. I looked up at the advertisements trying to see what was for sale this month in Gotham. So many heads and bodies in the way, however, it seemed a little awkward. So, I turned my head down and unfocused my eyes least some super-charged alpha worker didn’t like how I looked at the cut of his/her/its jib.
The first time I saw a cell phone, it was on TeeVee. One of those huge cubes. Maybe it was a cell phone, perhaps a satellite phone. Either way, it was, even more, space age than my grandmother’s cordless phone. The cordless phone she would wander the fields with jabbing away much to the amusement of the farmers who would report her “talking to space.” I remember this one call where she reported to us kids she was looking at a deer. Close up. And on the phone at the same time.
I did not know anyone who had one of those 1980s satellite phone. Once, I saw a guy in an expensive car zoom past me on the highway to New York City on the phone. In his vehicle and already making important deals, I thought. Years later, I would travel to Europe. I landed in Italy and at once was amazed by the use of cell phones. These were still significant things, the screen showed only a phone number, and people did not text. I was sitting at some hostel amongst Europeans from all over the European Economic Area (EEA) and remarked at the use of cell phones. I assumed these were expensive bits of technology which caused the EEA members to laugh. One, perhaps an Italian, exclaimed that ordinary people “even spacklers” have these handy phones or ‘mobiles’ as they were also called. I was to see mobiles all over Europe, and yet, I was still sending back post cards and perhaps all summer made one phone call back home to say I was alive. There were a few internet cafes, but I didn’t know anyone who had an email address.
After my formal education can come to a terminal degree, I moved to Gotham. Most drug dealers were still using the pager-payphone combo, and these people would be clustered at certain pay phones. Payphones still took incoming calls. I had to keep quarters with me to call and remember numbers I wrote in a book in order to use these phones. Sometimes I would call a roommate and ask for a number or call information and a lady picked up, then a computer, and now nothing. I finally got a job and moved into a professional organization. This organization got a bunch of mobile phones for everyone to use. At first, I didn’t get one, but in time one of the artists dropped out or was arrested, or both and I got his phone and was told I could use it. And use it I did. I was able to call people from the upper floors of buildings (service was still spotty on the streets and forget underground or moving in a car made the signal choppy). I had phone meetings. Called people in other places. Called from hotel bars on the roof. Called people to say I was calling from a hotel bar roof. The phone would ring, and I could see the number. We also had a mode that the 8-12 of us working in the organization could talk using the phone like a walkie-talkie. It was indeed a status bump. I was not setting up important meetings, but in some way, I was that 80s guy in his car zooming down the highway making deals.
In time I lost that job and got my own phone. Then I had to upgrade to another phone. Then it was not good to just have a phone, because no one trusted guys using ‘clam shell’ phones. Those were the ‘burn phones,’ phones you used once to make some call about illegal stuff and then never used again. I switched from using a Palm Pilot and a cell phone to using a cell phone that also was a computer that connected to the internet. Now, I could look up things online at any time. I had to upgrade again, and then upgraded again. By this time I had already gone through countless phones, entered and lost entire address books, and settled on an iThingy which I then got trapped in the cycle of upgrades and replacements since the entire super computer is made out of glass. Now, spending time without the iThingy is unthinkable. And this day, I had lost my way and left behind my glass constantly-in-need-of-an-update device I still call a phone.
I spoke to my partner. She looked at me strangely, wondered aloud that were I to forget my iThingy every day we could talk as we were doing now. What do you mean talk? You area the one always on your phone. I accused her of looking at her phone first and then there was a rather terse discussion that ended in a draw and a few gentle jokes. Wet gained no attention from the commuter passengers/customers who were each wrapped up in their personal media experience. The train dragged on, and I felt as if I had been transported back in time to 1997 or 1998 back when I needed to bring books or newspapers on the train or for any long trip. I had all these questions I wanted to be answered. Right away, just at the flick of my fingers. But, that was not to be. I said goodbye, gave a kiss, and then went into the long tunnel to transfer to the next train. I didn’t know what time it was, but I was sure that I would arrive on time to work. I wanted to check my emails as I walked so I was caught up when I arrived at work. However, this was not to be. Looking about, I noticed things I don’t normally look at. There were some things I wish I was able to take a picture of. I drew out a pen from deep in my bag and attempted to make a sketch. What happened to my hands? I used to be able to sketch some things, not well, but at least some perhaps level of a 12th-year-old child. No longer would my lines meet, perspective was out the window, my perception was all lost. Maybe if I have time, later, I can fix these drawings. But, I will make sure to never forget my phone again.