Category Archives: Consumer Culture

1000 Words: Useless

Loyal Pencillistas are well aware that I am the last human being on this planet who does not own a smartphone. I am the proud possessor of a flip phone. Not terribly long ago, I went into the Verizon store to report my phone wasn’t taking a charge well anymore. When I whipped out my flip phone the clerk recoiled, ever so slightly, as if I’d pulled a tarantula out of my pocket.

Certain tribespeople from the deep Amazon rainforest, members of isolated societies that have had scarce contact with the modern world, would snicker upon being told I own and use this thing:

I’ve already run the laundry list of reasons I don’t want to get re-reeled into the smartphone opium den but, for those not in the know, here they are again:

  • I have no desire to be tethered to the internet 24 hours a day
  • I am neither a neurosurgeon, US Air Force nuclear wing commander, nor 911 emergency call answerer so there’s no need for me to be in constant communication with anyone
  • I do not need or want a news feed that reminds me incessantly what an insufferable pack of idiots we humans are
  • I struggle with certain addictions already and do not need another
  • I won’t have my brain wiring altered

That enough for you? Oh wait, here’s one more: I’m not an obedient, easily malleable consumer.

There. That oughtta be enough of an argument for anyone who thinks my eschewing of the device is idiosyncratic. Well, it is idiosyncratic, but in a healthy, rebellious way, not in a Jeez, is that guy psychotic or what? way.

People might say that if I had kids I’d long ago have jumped on the device bandwagon but I’d like to think I’d be even more anti-smartphone. Trust me, all these generations of kids with smartphones who are shackled to their parents’ smartphones are in line for years of expensive shrink sessions trying to understand why they can’t individuate yet at the age of 42. Either that or they’ll have long been dead because they’d been smushed by a car when crossing the street while staring obliviously into their screens for the latest Harry Styles news.

Styles

And see? I don’t have a smartphone and I know who Harry Styles is. I know, bizarre, right?

Now let me explain that “re-reeled” reference five grafs above. I owned a smartphone for a short period of time five or six years ago. That fact that I felt a constant impulse to go to it during conversations, while driving, while evacuating my bowels, when waking up in the middle of the night, while eating — you know better than I do, you smartphones users — scared the crap out of me. I felt as though I was losing touch with time and place. There was, in fact, no more here and now for me; everything was there and then.

Not only that, I cracked the screen within the first year of owning the thing. Replacement phones ranged from a few hundred dollars for a cheap knock-off to well over a grand for the real thing. Like I said, I’m no obedient consumer. I’d rather spend that kind of dough on pizza and a certain botanical.

In any case, I got to thinking about this mania we have for technology and devices when our new range was installed. The manual for it runs to nearly a hundred pages. I wanted to boil a kettle of water for my morning coffee and had to stop because — swear to god — you need to program the stovetop. Not only that, the thing has remote capability.

I thought, For pity’s sake, people are too lazy to haul their huge butts off the sofa to turn the burner on or off?! And, believe me, my butt is as wide as it can get and I can barely walk thanks to hip arthritis and several other obstacle-ish maladies but I get up off my titanic derriere to turn the burner on or off.

See? Technology. Just because something’s possible doesn’t mean it’s needed. It’s like self-driving cars. I read all these articles about how it’s possible and it’s coming and I say, Why?

Take self-service check-out at the grocery store. I never recall anyone saying, My god, I can’t bear standing there while the clerk scans my tomatoes! If only I could do it myself. Nevertheless, Kroger and Publix and Meijer and Target and all the rest sank gobs of dough into the technology — not because they were wringing their hands over our convenience and comfort, but because they wanted to reduce labor costs. For that, read: cut jobs.

There are always unintended consequences from emerging technologies. Do you think Lenoir and Otto mused, when they were inventing their internal combustion engines, Hmm. I wonder if this machine may one day alter the planet’s climate to the extent that it threatens the existence of millions of species?

The parking meters in my fair adopted town of Bloomington, Indiana more and more are becoming programmable, meaning they won’t take coins or bills or credit cards but will only work with smartphones. The world is turning into a device-industrial complex. Even if an idiosyncratic nudge like me wants to thumb my nose at smartphone technology, I’ll still have to join up if I want to park my car somewhere.

To this date, if you have any mental capacity whatsoever, you keep a small pile of coins in your car so you can feed the meter. That’s not too onerous a practice. Again, it’s not as if the multitudes have been shaking their fists and shrieking for remote technologies to free them from the ordeal of carrying currency.

And here’s the kicker: the company that runs Bloomington’s smartphone-activated meters says you can use the meters even if you don’t have a smartphone. Simply use its “automated phone system.” Only you’ll have to determine the correct local phone number by consulting its website, pre-register online, and complete the process by using the company’s app. In other words, you need a goddamned smartphone!

Somebody’s benefitting from all this and it ain’t necessarily me.

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