Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Blessing/Curse Of My New Smartphone

droidafraid Ten years ago, I stopped being unreachable.

My first cell phone was an old Kyocera, made of hard, black plastic with a green-backlit screen. It had an extendable antenna. Talking into it was kind of like talking into a tin cup – I was kind of amazed to hear a voice on the other end, no matter how distant or scratchy. Call me at home, in the car or between AP U.S. History and Pre-Calculus; if I didn’t pick up, you could leave a message. On my voicemail.

It’s 2010. My new phone has three different microphones to filter out background noise. It has a touch screen keyboard – really, who calls people anymore? – that can predict what I’m writing as I’m writing it. It synthesizes global news, social networking and email into a single data-slurry splashed all over a 4.3” screen, all ready for me the moment my alarm goes off.

It’s nothing short of a miracle. I often wonder if I was happier without it.
I’m still a little in awe of the Motorola Droid X. Though big by handset standards, it’s still only slightly taller than my wallet, and half as thick (get it? I’m poor). Underneath the stunningly sharp touch screen hums a 1 gigahertz processor and nearly 14.71 gigabytes of stoage. The 8 megapixel camera can take impressive still shots as well as shoot video in high-definition.

Once the alarm goes off – it, too, is provided by the phone – I’m wired. I groggily scan the emails I received between 12:30 and 8 a.m., read the odd text or two and boot up the New York Times app to see what happened on Planet Earth while I slumbered. I cross-check this offering with NPR and BBC news apps. Before I swing one leg over the mattress, I’ve received a more comprehensive briefing than some world leaders.

Throughout the day, my phone chirps up with updates from multiple data streams. Most of this can be filed under “curious” or “irrelevant,” and most of it comes from Twitter: since I started writing this post, the X told me Margaret Atwood had a root canal, game critic Leigh Alexander is crashing from an apparent iron deficiency and designer Ian Bogost had a burrito.

Earlier, I tweeted grumpily from the Sussex County DMV (I did this, by the way, in the middle of reading a review of V.S. Naipaul’s new book). I also asked Andrew (@Thomsirveaux) what he thought about Angry Birds, a game of avian carnage. I also sent innumerable texts bitching about the slow, gruesome grind of license and registration renewal. On my way home, I booted up Pandora Radio and listened to an alt-country station tailored to my tastes.

Battery bar in the green. My phone wasn’t even breaking a sweat. It’s almost scary.

This is a new zenith of hyperactive multitasking, even for me, a former CrackBerry user. The third-generation cellular network (check Steph’s explainer for a precise dissection of what we mean when we say 3G) has taken the addictiveness of every-other-second email checking and cut it with methamphetamine. Thanks to the X’s beefy processor and efficient Android 2.2 operating system, web pages load quickly with all bells and whistles intact. The news apps motioned above, outlet-specific programs that scrunch stories for easier viewing, only mainline an already efficient information intake.

But when does the cup runneth over? More and more I find myself forgetting headlines I’d read mere minutes ago. My brain is already halfway to the next tasty info-morsel, my fingers already halfway through the URL for,,, and depressingly,, picking my way through my friends’ complaints, laments and excerpted song quotes.

Op-eds pass through me like a breeze through a screen door. I labor through anything longer than 1,000 words; on redeeming occasions, I tuck away longform pieces like Brain Mockenhaupt’s “The Last Patrol” and savor them throughout the course of a day.

Maybe the cup metaphor is fatally flawed; these days, my mind is more a sieve.

A more troubling symptom of my tech-induced ADD manifested while I was reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Every few paragraphs, I would realize my mind was drifting. I’d snap back to the text, only to realize I should probably check my phone for something vaguely important. The impulse felt like an itch that was impossible to resist and delicious to scratch. I craved new data, fresh information. Any scrap would do.

The X is increasingly turning from an asset into something to deal with; the ability to be constantly informed is feeling more than a little burdensome. I think Pankin came to a similar conclusion with his smartphone. I almost miss my Kyocera days of blessed ignorance, when I would extend the flimsy antenna to -

One second. Text.