Saturday, November 21, 2009

The iWidow and the Herion Addict

Have you ever looked around a restaurant and seen an iWidow? Look for the woman staring wistfully off into space while her husband stares unashamedly as his hand in his lap? She is an iWidow and he is Type A+Man. While this story has a modern spin, the fact of the matter is, its an old story. And I'll warn you now, there's no resolve at the end.

I have read that iPhone use creates actual addictive patterns in the brain. You send a text or a message and you await a response. That sort of “ping” back from another person releases a charge of dopamine – a little happy moment in your brain – and your behavior has been reinforced. Let’s call that iPavlov. But what the hell, right? Who cares if the guy is constantly checking the scores or updating his fantasy baseball stats. Big deal, right?

Yes, big deal. For many reasons.

The iPhone is the new Other Woman. The average working man takes his iPhone everywhere. He does not take his wife with him when he travels for work, he can’t. But even when he is home, he goes on runs, he goes out with friends, he goes shopping or to the movies and he may have to leave the wife at home, but he takes the phone. And it’s always on, he is always receiving information from it. Ask any iWidow if she’s ever been “waved off” in favor of a message on his hand-held device. That app is called the iDntHvTym4U. When she looks at her husband across the room, the average iWidow is thinking, “Gee, that used to be my hand in his hand.”

Where we used to wander, now we Mapquest. “How many times have we used it on family vacations to find a place when we were lost?” How many of those times would you have found it anyway? How many adventures have you missed by being precise and correct? He checks the weather and the train schedule, as if knowing them changes them in some way. He will or won’t be at the station before the 7:35.

Where we used to wonder, now we Wikki. We don’t say, “I wonder” anymore because we can Google. If we wonder, then we are asking and if we are asking, well, let me just look that up on the amazing internet which I happen to have surgically implanted on my palm right here… ahah! There is no more imagining an answer, there is no more debating various suggestions at an answer, there is only The Answer.

Where we used to have conversations, now we chat. I laughed one day to see this man listening to his buddy on the train. The buddy was talking about some frustration at work when the friend glanced down at his iPhone - his “I-Phone” in this case - and exclaimed, “I’ve got bars!” and never looked up at his buddy again. Bars indeed, bars erected between himself and his now seething buddy.

"We” has been reduced to” i.” Type A+ Man and his family are for a walk. The wife and the kids are talking, the kids are complaining about having to read Milton, about having to run in PE, and about the weather. They are all walking along, they are seeing and feeling and looking and while Type A+ Man is doing those things as well, he is also having another experience: he is getting sensory data that they are not. His experience of right now has more data points in it, his mind is fractured, the memory he takes from these moments will be different than any of his family, he will get home and have had a different afternoon. He is thinking, "I'll just do this one thing, answer this one email. I can do both things without anyone noticing." Well, he's wrong.

It is, I guess, an essential characteristic of high powered type A+ Man that he would like to have access to information all the time. If a question occurs to him, he wants to know the answer, he wants it now, he opens his palm and his palm tells him. There is no walking without knowing how far or how fast. “I’m higher than I was” or “I’m warmer than I was” becomes, “We’ve gone up forty feet from the trail head and its ten degrees warmer.” His senses don’t have bars here, I guess.

Type A+ Man has to know for sure right now and he has to compare to last time. He keeps track of how far and how fast. He has an app for accumulated miles that calculates the times, the distances, tells you how many calories you burned, and the weather. It knows how much vitamin D you absorbed, it keeps a record of pounds per square inch on your right knee since the injury and it has a nifty little chart to show you that, based just on the miles you’ve walked since you loaded the app, you are this much closer to walking all the way to the moon. And you know what? It does that automatically just by being on.

Well, now he knows how far he’s come, how fast, how long, how many books he’s read and how many classes he’s taken that might add up to a PhD in literature in which institutions in the United States. But for your average type A+ iPhone carrying executive, that is just not gonna be enough. No, he has to share it now. He has to Twitter and to Facebook, he has to email it to his buddy who is also virtually walking to the moon. And then, after he’s checked the facts, established his prowess, posted and emailed his conclusions and received the comments and return email, he chuckles and shares it with his family.

Only they don’t laugh.

Because none of this has actually happened. To them. They are still on the walk.

Remember the walk?

The iPhone saves, sorts and compares every little thing he has asks it to and gives him a nifty interface. And all that time the experience his family was having on the walk? He missed it. And what did his family learn? He brought along his personal ego boost, his handheld affirmation. His family was simply the jumping off point for a solipsistic tour of cyber credibility that ended with them feeling inadequate and, finally, disconnected. The message is subtle and possibly unintentional: what satisfies the family, what contents them, what they settle for, is just not enough for him. Their conversation doesn’t hold his attention. Their experience of the world is too one-dimensional, their world is too easy, he needs more of a challenge. Not only is he not sharing in their experience, he is not sharing in it because it is inadequate. How can they help but wonder if they are also inadequate in his sight? The app for that is called iSolation.

And iSolation leads into dangerous territory: we can easily go from "my only friends are virtual" to "I have no friends." Feelings of isolation are always among the list of characteristics in the case of a suicide... or of a Fort Hood type shooting. Isolation need not be imposed from the outside, we can choose it ourselves, we can opt into it.

There is much that is wonderful about this new handheld technology. It is indeed delightful to have a phone/radio/television/DVDplayer/Camera/Personal Computer/GPS at your fingertips. It enables us to use our time SO much more efficiently: we get work done faster, we respond sooner, we know now and we are through finished and done. But then what?

We have to be able to go from interface to face-to-face. We have to look up. This is different from "look it up:" we don't "Google it" we "make eye contact with it;" we don't "chat" with IM language, we chat, as in over coffee; we don't use a browser, we browse a bookshelf. Society requires socializing, if you doubt me, ask yourself why emoticons were invented: we can't communicate without facial expression.

This is the age old quandary of who to feel sorry for: for the family that experiences the absent/present member, or for the person who voluntarily isolates himself with an addiction he can't see and can't control. It's cool, its in, you're so lame if you don't, but its not heroin, its not crack. In an odd way, it is a more honest representation of the fact: it is your pilot. Ask yourself, when did you surrender the wheel?

1 comment:

Jim and Missy said...

I can't believe it...I just heard a piece on this on NPR last night. The problem was that dates(especially men)were texting on first dates. It is a shame that the human right by our side is not enough for us. And yet...I am typing my response on a isolation.