5 Awful Things You Don't Realize Until Your Phone Breaks
This is a story about tragedy, loss, and the unbearable pain that inevitably comes with both.
... is how I would start this column if I was a millennial hipster. Here's a more accurate version: this is an article about the strange ways smartphones -- or rather, taking them away -- affect your life, inspired by the story of a dumbass who spent a few months without a cellphone and, thanks to a series of increasingly ridiculous mishaps, learned a number of unexpected life lessons. The story is true, the dumbass is me, and here's how shit went down:
You Are Powerless to Fix It
A couple of months ago, I posted this Facebook update:
Although there is probably some anger-induced hyperbole there, it's basically how things went: one day, I came to notice that my phone had gone all Skynet on me. The touchscreen refused to respond to any of my commands, instead following orders seemingly typed in by invisible ghost wizards who were determined to fuck my shit up as much as they could. Invisible hands were all over my social media and attempting to randomly call people whose phone numbers I thought I had erased years ago. Had this been a computer, I might have been able to fix it myself. But a phone? No chance in hell.
Before you write me off as even more of a dork than it will shortly become evident that I am: yes, I attempted to shut the thing down, but since the power button only takes you to a "Shut Down Y/N" menu, that was useless. I'm also aware phones generally have some manual fail-safe shutdown system, but good luck Googling that shit when your phone keeps thinking it's a way better idea to ignore you in favor of loading Moneygrab Fiend XIII off Google Play -- especially as you're currently trudging through a cold November rain that contains far less awesome guitar solos than Guns N' Roses would have you believe. So, I had no other option than to seek shelter and desperately flail at my Pazuzu-infested gadget until it graciously entered flight mode and rendered itself relatively harmless. Through it all, I handled myself pretty gracefully, if I say so myself.
This is what "graceful" means, right?
Eventually, the battery died down, which solved Problem One. Unfortunately, Problem Two immediately arose, as my slightly less-than-pedantic bookkeeping system had swallowed the phone's warranty papers. I decided to put things off until tomorrow, borrow an older, smaller spare phone from my dad, and get on with my life until I would eventually get around to getting Demon Phone fixed.
And then, not a day later, I dropped and broke the fucking spare phone.
Your Phone Becomes a Severed Ghost Limb That You Can Still Feel
During the first week of my life without a portable Internet device, what I found out was this:
Hi, my name is Pauli, and I am a smartphone addict.
That's a joke, by the way. I don't want to throw around terms such as "addict" lightly, because science is still trying to figure out whether mobile phone overuse counts as addictive -- and if life has taught me anything, it's that I'm always, always precisely 2 percent less smart than science. Still, during the following week or so, I soon deduced that if I had to bet on this particular fight, I would put my entire paycheck to the "fuck yeah, it's addictive" camp.
Removing constant Internet access almost immediately reduced me into a fidgeting, twitchy mess, to an extent I haven't experienced since I quit smoking. I would constantly reach for my phone just to "check my email real quick," which, of course, we all know is slang for "Imgur and TV Tropes until the battery dies." Then, realizing for the 19th time that all I had left was an old and battered Nokia 3210, I hastily switched brain gears, mentally hissed at anyone within a 20-foot radius, and skulked back into the deep, dark corner of my mind where I just wanted to browse, goddammit. It was like amputees feeling an unscratchable itch that hovers in the empty space where their elbow had once occupied. It was maddening.
You're probably wondering why I didn't just buy a new phone or fix the broken one, like a regular person. The problem was that this also marked the start of an extremely busy period in my life -- think 17-hour workdays, way too many airports, a looming Christmas, and all that jazz. After initially failing to locate the warranty papers, I kept pushing the task later and later because I was just flat-out too exhausted to search for them and too miserly to buy a new phone because I was certain the old one could be fixed. I had been provided the ingredients of a perfectly fine shit soup, and I was apparently more than prepared to stew.
You're Suddenly Aware of Every Mundane Activity in Your Life
Do you know how mind-breakingly tedious it is to poop? What about commuting? Having to wait for a friend who's 20 minutes late? Of course you don't -- you have your smartphone to kill that excess time. I suddenly didn't, so I had to learn to deal with all that crap like I was a toddler learning to walk. Turns out, getting stuck without constant Internet access not only messes up your ability to check things like addresses and, let's face it, Facebook, all of the time -- it also throws you back into the times of yore, when people who found themselves with time to kill either brought a book or were shit out of luck.
For most intents and purposes, I found myself thrown into a Bizarro version of the late 1990s, in which everyone else had access to modern technology, but I was stuck cargo-pantsing my way through life with a hammer, a chisel, and a stone, a situation that my elderly temporary phone didn't exactly go out of its way to defuse. In an era when everyone carried powerful pocket computers, I was stuck typing text messages with that old, annoying-ass "tap a button 10,000 times to reach the letter you need" way everyone was really adept at back when cellphones first arrived on the scene.
"Maybe I can maximize this 1990s bullshit experience
by playing some Fugees and Fatboy Slim from my pho- oh, goddammit."
The thing is, this is not exactly a problem you can whine about. "Boohoo, I temporarily don't hold the entire world's information at my fingertips" is such a ridiculous, First World problem to have, and complaining about it will cause your every ancestor to rise from the grave just so they can kick you in the dick and remind you they were mainly communicating with bone drums and punching. Even now, in this attempt to record the reflexive, anguished screams of my information-hungry brain at the time, I cringe because I realize what a risk I run for being seen as a whiny assbutt on par with a men's rights activist. The saga of a broken gadget is not exactly Hamlet, tragedy-wise.
So, I realized that, manned the hell up, and adapted. My text-messaging thumb soon readjusted, and I started carrying a book or a magazine for those inevitable periods of waiting. I told myself I didn't need to obsessively stalk that handful of websites I always have tabs open for at home, anyway. If I knew I would need directions or a shopping list or whatever when I left the house, I damn well made sure I would have those, instead of how I used to frantically Google them on the fly. Basically, it was the world's least exciting training montage, the sort with a Limp Bizkit song playing in the background.
And at the end of it, I realized that ...
You Rediscover the World
Books, you guys. They have always been and will forever remain the supreme form of entertainment, at least as far as I'm concerned. My reading habit has always bordered on addiction, but in recent years, my problem has been the fact that I flat-out don't have time to read books anymore. I would tear through maybe three books during the holidays and sometimes browse through a quick novel during the weekend if I didn't have any deadlines. Well, you know where all that time I supposedly didn't have went? Before my phone broke down, there were approximately 30 books in my shelf that I had bought out of habit but completely failed to read due to time constraints. After a few weeks, there were less than 20. Today, the number is less than five.
I would probably still have all 30 if I didn't eat my books after reading them.
That's just one example of the surprising benefits involuntarily laying off 24/7 Internet brought, too. Those of you who have quit smoking know how it feels to slowly reacquire your senses of smell and taste. It was basically that, but for my eyes and to my brain, such as it is. I started noticing shit that I had paid zero attention to for years: the people standing at the bus stop with me every weekday, the events occurring on the street, and the pack of grizzly bears that had apparently attempted to maul me for years and that I had evaded merely by a ridiculous, never-ending string of slapstick accidents. In short, I started observing things again -- instead of reading about them online.
Ironically enough, precious few other people shared these observations with me because they were busy tinkering with their phones. (In my town, everyone seems to constantly use one. I had never once realized this before I stopped using mine.) I fully admit this, in the beginning, sent me flying head first into that smug asshole mode that ex-smokers, cyclists, and the rest of the "I'm better than you" people share. Let's just never discuss that part of the process. Luckily, it didn't last long enough for someone to kick my ass, anyway.
Still, all good things eventually come to an end, and I would soon find that ...
It's Possible to Embrace the Caveman Ways (but You Probably Won't Want to)
So, after way too many weeks, I finally got the damn phone fixed.
Surprise, motherfuckers! Did you think I was going all wishy-washy up there, feeling nostalgic about basic things like reading and blue skies and square-dancing around the log cabin with the rest of my newfound Mennonite kin? If you did, you're absolutely right. My time without a smartphone was a wonderfully refreshing experience, in the way a great vacation is refreshing: after you manage to relax, you have an awesome time, but damn if it doesn't feel good to return home when the time comes.
The thing is, life without constant Internet access is like life without running water -- simpler in many ways, but, ultimately, a lot shittier. This is fucking 2015, man. If you have access to a pocket-sized computer-radio-phone-back massager-whatever, why on earth wouldn't you use it? That's like saying Marty McFly would've been better off skipping the Hoverboard in favor of a pedal-powered Smart Fortwo.
That's not to say that I couldn't live without a smartphone. I totally could, as could (and can) many other people. Feel free to give it a go for a while if you would like; it can get pretty awesome. Still, as long as a significant chunk of both my work and social life are online, I can't think of a reason to arbitrarily restrict myself from all of that just because I don't happen to be sitting in front of a computer.
Even so, it must be said that I -- and I'm going to hazard a guess that I'm far from the only one -- could probably work on how often I use that pinnacle of progress in my pocket (and the smartphone, too). For one, I would definitely like to keep being able to read more than I did before all of this took place, and I guess it wouldn't hurt to occasionally keep an eye on the outside world, too. The grizzlies, you understand.
Or, I could just look it all up on YouTube since I have a new smartphone. Yeah, that's probably the quicker path. I have shit to do.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Stupid Reasons Life is Terrifying for Awkward People and 4 Creepy Ways Growing Older Shapes Your Thoughts.
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