It’s been 3 years, 1 month and 8 days since I got my first iPhone, a 3GS. (I was an early admirer but late adopter.) Like most of my major and minor purchases or any time I have to create a guest list, the decision making process was full of angst and neuroses. At one point, my foolish 2009 self nearly got a Blackberry in order to stay on a Verizon plan (much like my foolish 2005 self purchased a Dell laptop and quickly returned it for a Macbook). Quelle horreur! But the smooth screen beckoned, and I followed it to the Prince Street Apple store in Soho.
Taking an iPhone out of its packaging – or any Apple product, for that matter – has become a hallowed ritual. There’s the box, with its abundance of white space and lack of that super annoying and impenetrable plastic casing other electronics are packed in. There’s the little instruction manual, the headphones nestled into their own space, the multiple layers. Everything’s beautiful. You feel the thrill of a new tool, a new toy, all the new apps that will change the way you interact with the world. You hold it in your hand, where it fits so nicely, just right, like it was meant to be.
And there it stays, in your hand, as my iPhone has stayed in my hand roughly all my waking hours for the last 3 years, 1 month and 8 days. Even when I’m sleeping, it’s face down on my mattress measuring my sleep patterns. I switched out the 3GS for a 4S at the appropriate time, and I anticipate acquiring the 5S when it’s available. The two year cell phone plan upgrade is one of the rhythms of our modern life.
When buying something new, there’s a temptation to think that it will change your life. Isn’t that one of the reasons to buy something? To make life easier, bring you happiness, make you look cooler, save you time. But most purchases let you down. You get bored with them; they don’t meet your expectations. Or maybe it’s just a corollary of the fact that money can’t buy happiness. Back on September 1, 2009, I’m sure I expected a similar letdown.
But once again, my 2009 self was wrong: the iPhone has totally impacted the way I engage with the world. At this point, the idea of switching to a non-smartphone is nearly beyond my comprehension. My communication methods were already heavily electronic, but they’ve become even more so (although I do use about 200 minutes of phone time a month, shocking to anyone who knows my aversion to voice calls). Why talk when you can express yourself succinctly through text, iMessage, gchat or (worse comes to worst) email?
And those apps? Some of them were letdowns (I Am T-Pain, I’m looking at you). A few are helpful on occasion (cookbook apps like Epicurious and How to Cook Everything) or are useful at specific times (IMDB or the Chinese dictionary iCED). But some of the apps – the social media apps – feel absolutely integral to my day: Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, Spotify and my trusty Google Reader link. They’re not limited to my phone, of course (with the exception of Instagram); I spend weekend mornings catching up on Google Reader on my Macbook and scan Twitter throughout the day.
But most of my engagement with them is done via my iPhone. The last thing I do before I go to sleep every night is check my phone. I refresh Twitter one more time just to make sure I’m not missing any late breaking news. I check for any hilarious texts from my friends. Then I tuck my iPhone under the fitted sheet so it can track how long I sleep. When its alarm wakes me up in the morning, the first thing I is roll over and check my phone. What happened in China? Any important emails? Good instagram shots coming out of Hong Kong?
Sure, I’m connected. I’m in the loop. I find out what’s happening as it’s happening. And I love feeling engaged with the broader world, whether it’s my favorite bloggers at The Atlantic Wire, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman) or Sufjan Stevens concert tour announcements. Is there a funny smell on 2nd Ave? Check Twitter to see what it is! Beautiful sunset over Houston Street? Share it with friends over Instagram. And if someone needs to get in touch with me, I can respond immediately, whatever the medium.
There are a few physical dangers, as we know. Don’t text and drive. Be sure not to tweet whilst crossing the street. Never post a photo on Instagram while jaywalking, late at night, in heels. Don’t email while walking down stairs. At some point, doing one of these things will cause you to drop your phone, which is the sort of thing nightmares are made of. On the other hand, I will never pick up smoking: if i need to fidget, I can do so on my phone (iPhones prevent lung cancer!).
The fidgeting concept disturbs me a little, though. Given one second of unused time, I pull out my phone and start emailing or texting or reading Twitter. Instead of reading on the subway, I’ll listen to my Spotify starred playlist. Heaven forbid I get bored or feel awkward at a party. As dinners with friends wind down, we all sigh with relief when the check comes and 2012 manners allow us to pull out our phones and frantically see what we missed in the last couple of hours. And I’m never bored, never ever, because there’s always new content on an app, on my iPhone, in my hand.
So now my 2012 self walks down the street, earbuds in, liking photos on Instagram, finding the perfect emoji to express myself in a text. I could be walking past acquaintances, but I won’t see them. Snippets of only-in-New York conversation? Not overheard. New building finally opened? I never noticed it was under construction. New York City is one of the world’s greatest cities; I choose to experience it through my peripheral vision. It’s quite a trade-off, holding the world in your hand but losing sight of it around you.