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Mares: Smart Phone

On a recent trip to France, my cell phone died. I didn't quite experience the five stages of grief, but I was more than merely annoyed, and then annoyed that I was annoyed.

My miseries were many. I couldn't call anyone. Since I didn’t have a separate camera I couldn't take pictures. I didn’t have access to Facebook so I couldn’t send selfies to friends. My French is weak so I couldn't follow the news. I couldn't check my location or the ball scores. And I couldn't send, or worse yet, get email!

Like a chain smoker, every five minutes I reached for the phone.

As I looked around, it seemed that everyone from seven to seventy, had a phone, with earphones, and without. They all listened to music, chatted with friends and took a zillion photos. They bent over the devices like chickens scratching for grain, clicking and clucking away.

But then I thought, Whoa! I’ve become addicted!

All the articles I'd been reading about cell phone obsession came back to me in a flash. My cell phone had been chopping up my day and my life into scores of pieces that looked bite-sized but were more often indigestible.

I worried that I was losing my ability for sustained thought – reducing my attention span to that of a gnat. And I was on call to the whole world 24/7!

I was appalled to realize that I’d become so dependent – in effect a digital patsy. I’d surrendered my intellectual independence to a device that made countless decisions for me – right down to those juvenile emoticons and acronyms like "LOL.”

My smart phone was making me stupid, so I rebelled.

I'd show that phone a thing or two. I'd go without it. After all, I was in a place where, twenty years before, I’d written letters, used maps, stopped to smell the lavender, attended soccer games – and waited for no one's electronic messages.

Like a new EX-smoker in a burst of smug renunciation, I went cold turkey for one... two... three... four... days. But then, over fish stew and a glass of wine on our last night abroad, I asked my wife if I could borrow her phone, "just to check my emails!"

Well, so much for that resolve.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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