1. Last night I rode the Metro to D.C. for the first time in many months. What struck me most was that every passenger was looking at and tapping on a smartphone—not a paper newspaper or book in sight. Even the Metro construction worker I passed on the way to the escalator was taking a break and... looking at his Kindle. It was as if a nuclear war had obliterated all the non-virtual text in-hand in the world. (Except for me. I pulled out my latest edition of one story magazine, which I keep in my purse, and read one of the finest short stories I've read in a while, “The World to Come” by Jim Shepard.)
In the past, when sitting on the Metro, I could tell who was reading a romance novel, who was reading historical fiction, etc. I sometimes struck up conversations with people who were reading authors I love.* But how would I know what they were reading (or doing) on their phones? Hunkering over a phone is not an interrupt-able activity. They could be reading work emails, writing texts to their boyfriends, researching restaurants. Each passenger in his or her own miniature workstation, accessing and accessible to invisible conversations.
2. This is what I find so eerie and irritating about all the smartphone technology. A person is there, and yet not there at all, their minds like the little yellow man on Google Maps, pinned to a web page. Lately I've been running into people jabbering loudly to themselves whom I think are crazy until they turn their heads and I see the small cylindrical earpiece that connects them to the Matrix. Wherever I see groups of people sitting down, there's always now a significant percentage of them looking at their cellphones. Even at the comedy club I went to last night, during the actual sets, every few minutes someone pulled out a phone and tapped into it. For all I know a play-by-play of the comedy competition was being uploaded simultaneously to dozens of Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. Or people were checking their emails.
I have lately coveted a smartphone—partly, yes, because I envy my hubby's ability to pull out his semi-smartphone and find a restaurant close by or settle trivia arguments with correct answers. But mostly because the power goes out in our house at least twice a year and I can't access my email—more than an irritation when your at-home editing work often depends on a swift response.
But I worry about being accessible always, and of the temptation to constantly share my thoughts and visage with everyone everywhere. Worse, I worry about becoming another zombie—what I call people who constantly check or look at things on their cell phones. They are there, and yet they are not, each in his own little world, sucking up data with his tiny device, wanting ever more.
* FYI - I never interrupted any readers, only talking to them when they had set a book aside...