If you’re over 25, you probably remember what it was like to live in a world before cell phones. It was a scary and uncertain place, this world, but then again we didn’t know any better. We lived in a blissful state of ignorance, picking up phones without knowing who was on the other end because we had no other choice. For all you know, it could have been that goth girl from 4th period that stared at you in class for an uncomfortably long period of time and probably looked up your home number in the phonebook.
Can you imagine doing that now? Try explaining to a teenager that we used to answer the phone without even knowing who was calling. What a sick, masochistic thing to do. Just the thought is scary in a horror movie “I know I shouldn’t open this battered red door but I’m going to anyway because I’m an idiot” kind of way.
If you remember this time, the time before smartphones (or B.S., if you will), then you’ll probably remember what it was like to call someone you had a crush on and ask him/her out over the phone.
Usually, you spent anything from a few minutes to several agonizing weeks obsessing over what you were going to say, crafting the words just perfectly to reflect exactly how you felt and exactly how you wanted the other person to feel. Only, instead of typing those words into a text message window on your iPhone, you had to say them – with your mouth.
You dialed the number on your brand new, cutting-edge cordless house phone and stared at the backlit digital display while your finger hovered over the “CALL” button. There was the brief moment of doubt where you wanted to back down, but you pushed through and hit the button.
And then the phone on the other end started ringing.
Every single pause between rings made you feel like you were at the bottom of that pit in Buffalo Bill’s basement, waiting for him to lower an empty basket.
Then, a wave of terror washed over you: “Wait – what if she doesn’t even answer the phone??? WHAT IF ONE OF HER PARENTS ANSWERS IT? WHAT THE FUCK DO I SAY THEN?”
And, if you’re like me, you hung up in a moment of panic before anyone even had a chance to pick up. Actually, “hung up” isn’t the correct term. “Hung up” gives you the impression that I gently and calmly placed the phone back in its cradle, when in reality I punched the end button with so much force I almost pushed it inside the handset. Then I would push it four or five more times for good measure, like when you finish with an ATM and compulsively press the “Clear” button a bunch of times.
These days, the socially awkward of the world get to skirt that entire sequence of events altogether. This development is amazing, don’t get me wrong. But that doesn’t mean that smartphones don’t come with their own set of built-in anxiety-inducing features.
They’re all the same fears, dressed up in fancy, futuristic disguises.
For example, you have that thing where you send a text to a girl and then immediately toss your phone on the floor and walk away from it like it is covered in baby spiders.
Then, you hear it vibrate – a response. So you tip-toe over to it, and try to get as close as you can to read the message without actually touching it, like it might self-destruct at any moment.
Or how about that awful, awful feeling you get when you hand someone your phone to show her a picture…and then she begins scrolling through your photos or opening your web browser?
I don’t have any questionable pictures in there, do I? I’m pretty sure I don’t. Well I took that one picture that one time to send to my ex-girlfriend as a joke, but I definitely deleted it. I think I did. I’m 99% sure I did. SHIT. What about my Photo Stream though? Is it deleted from there? It’s still on the Cloud. Fuck, I know it is. Goddamn the Cloud. Wait, now she’s going onto the Internet. Quick, what’s the last thing I Googled? Oh jesus, we were having that argument about the definition of bukake.
And without fail, even if you have nothing to hide, you will leave friction burns on the other person’s hand when you snatch your phone.
For people who share 75% of their lives on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn, we’re awfully paranoid about other people finding out what’s on our phones. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then again, what does make sense anymore?
Our personal and intimate relationships are forever shaped by our smartphones. And there’s no going back. Those simpler times – when you needed to drop a handwritten note in that cute girl from Biology’s locker in between periods – those are gone. Now, you need to drop her a note in her Gmail inbox – but don’t forget to remove that “Sent from my iPad” signature from the bottom, that’s tacky.
Now, life is one big party where your iPod is the one plugged into the speakers and you’re just hoping and praying that the shuffle brings up Arcade Fire and Beach House and not that one Katy Perry song you bought on iTunes when you were drunk.
And in this, we notice that we’ve come full circle. We’re afraid of the same thing we were afraid of when that phone was ringing at our crush’s house and maybe her father was going to answer or maybe it would be her brother or maybe (gasp!) it would be her.
The unknown. Whether it’s not knowing who’s going to answer the phone, whether you dropped that note into the right locker (was it 798 or 789?), what that text message is going to say, or what that person going through your pictures is going to find, it all boils down to the same thing.
Primal, prehistoric, unreasonable fear.
We’re always trying to avoid it, outsmart it, or just flat-out run away from it altogether, even though we know it’ll always be there, lurking on every Facebook wall and on every iPhone screen, forever just one swipe of a finger away.
And yet, despite our irrational fear of the unknown, the unknown is actually what keeps us going every day. It’s why we get up in the morning and it’s why we text that girl from the bar even though we know she’s out of our league.
So we can play games with ourselves by pretending we don’t want to know what’s on that wall, on that screen, on the other end of that phone line.
But there’s a reason we obsessively check our phone every 7 minutes when we’re waiting for a text. It’s because even though we’re terrified of the unknown, it’s kind of all we have.
And that’s never going to change. No matter how many times our technology does.
For more from Rob…
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