Tag Archives: cell phones
I’m trying to find words
to describe how I feel
when, during a reading
from Elie Wiesel’s Night,
I look up and see students
looking at their phones.
One student, in particular,
looks at me, and without irony,
without hesitation, and without,
I would say, consciousness,
says, as if it were a legitimate
explanation, that she was looking
at the new emoji images
now available to her for instant
In moments like these,
it is hard for me not to simply
scream bloody murder;
it is impossible for me
to be magnanimous,
or tolerant, forgiving,
to single out a move like this
for special public humiliation.
And so I say,
This is more important
in this moment
than the extermination
of 6 millions Jews in
Nazi concentration camps?
–to which, of course, she
cannot respond and we
move on as if it never happened
and she moves on as if it never
happened and continues to be
distracted by minutia and incapable
of attending with any seriousness
to human suffering.
These are the soul crushing
moments in a teacher’s life,
when the material seems
personally so monumental,
so absolutely engrossing in
its unspeakable horror,
and real, and true, and relevant, too,
while all around the world in the 21st
century people continue to suffer and die
in the wake of oppression and hatred,
that one is rendered mute, impotent
in the face of indifference and ignorance,
grieving and furious at this invasion
into our lives of these technological bobbles
whose sole purpose seems to be the
prevention of thought and absence of mind.
I have to remind myself
that she was one kid–and taken with
the two or three other boys I’ve caught
in the same unit of study playing
Clash of Clans, she is in a tiny minority
careless and thoughtless in the face
of the Holocaust. Conscientiousness,
though, prevents me from dismissing it,
from letting it go, keeps me going
over and over the scene, at first,
obsessively in counter productive circles,
until finally, it becomes a simple commitment:
No one, no one gets off the hook.
Everyone puts down their phones, must look.
The assignment today was to write an “un-love” poem. The Smiths come to mind, for so many reasons, but in particular the lyric, “I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday” from the Strangeways, Here We Come album. Morrissey was/is the king of the “un-love” song. Sure, I can do that, I thought. And I started thinking about all the things I un-love, and it didn’t take very long, because the subject of my “un-love” poem today is a thing I un-love more than almost anything in the world, or at least, the thing that most annoys me: excessive, obsessive, chronically habitual cell phone usage. What follows is my tenth poem in celebration of National Poetry Writing Month.
Your Dumb Smart Phone
Turn it off.
Put it away.
Be here, now.
That thing in your hands, that thing
you caress and cradle against your cheek
like a lover, is killing you, both literally
and figuratively. What’s the report, people?
Distracted drivers die and kill,
sometimes they die and kill at the same time.
That’s clear. It’s statistically true.
What’s more, not deadly but infuriating,
is that being in the presence of someone
who is constantly looking at a screen
that is nowhere near one’s proximity,
makes one feel ignored,
unimportant, insignificant, disregarded,
snubbed, like one is in the presence of a crack addict.
My theory is this: If you can’t go several hours
without receiving or sending a text, or an instagram,
or a pintarest, or a flipping tweet,
checking or posting on faceplant, you are toast.
You’re a ghost. You’re not even in this space.
And you are depriving yourself of life-giving oxygen,
of anything that might happen in your actual sphere
of existence: a smile, a kind word, an interesting thought,
a provocative question, the physical community
of family and friends and peers and mentors.
Whatever it was, you missed it
and it will never happen again.
Be here, now.
Put it away.
Turn it off.
I’ll begin by patting myself on the back, railing against the machine–and I’ll conclude with a number of confessions and some serious hand-wringing. I might even gnash my teeth together regarding the various ways in which technology is killing me.
I congratulate myself for abstaining from cell phone use for a very long time. I purchased my first cell phone ever in the summer of 2011–and I bought a shitty 3G iPhone for fifty bucks. Most of the calls I get I miss because the phone is rarely on my person. It’s no big deal. People leave messages, just like they used to do on those crazy answering machines with the little micro cassettes, and when I get their messages, I call them back. Because it’s a shitty 3G, it does only what I really need it to do: it functions as a telephone and as a message sending device. There are no games or fancy apps. Every once in a while I’ll check the weather or use the calculator, but rarely. I feel pretty good, smug actually, about my propensity for resisting the smart phone siren call–and the siren call of half a dozen other technological advances that tend to use humans more than they are used by them.
This is what I’ve seen. People walking together in public places, each with a phone in use, carrying on conversations with people who are not the people they are walking with in public places. I have seen students in my classroom who cannot, literally, be without their phones in their hands, in their faces, in their ears, or on the desk in front of them. They are attached to these devices as if they were appendages to their actual bodies. If you removed the phone from the possession of many of these children you might expect to see them break out in cold sweats, convulse, maybe even vomit or bleed, or at least get out-of-control angry. One student told a colleague of mine that if he took her phone her mother would kill him. I’ve seen couples in clubs or in restaurants who sit together snuggly while they each surf the web on their phones. I’ve seen students of mine on the road, driving and texting. Did you hear the story of the young couple in a fatal auto accident who turned out to be texting each other in the car? Moving from phones for a minute, I’ve seen kid after kid at my high school at the boy’s restroom urinals with their iPods blasting dub-step, metal, hip-hop, power pop, yes, blasting. These kids can’t even take a piss without the stimulus of technology. I hope to some day see a kid who’s pissing accidentally drop his phone or his pod into the toilet. This would bring joy to my heart. I have countless times seen groups of kids in a standing huddle all simultaneously wearing ear-buds and trying to talk to each other over the noise drowning out the noise in their heads.
I worry that smart phones are making us dumb. We can’t find a place on a map. We can’t look up words in dictionaries. We can’t wait. We must have instant gratification. We are constantly distracted. We can’t be in a room by ourselves. We can’t do ANYTHING without telling someone about it in a text or a post, and yet, we can’t look each other in the eye. We can’t listen. We cannot endure silence. We can’t do simple arithmetic. We don’t need to remember anything. Wikipedia will immediately answer all of our questions and we will immediately forget those answers. Twitter has reduced social discourse to a sound that birds make. Henry David Thoreau was suspicious of the post office and the railroad. Henry David Thoreau would hate us.
Okay, all you smart-phone-Mp3-player-kindle-reader-game-player-you-tube-facebook addicts: don’t you feel terrible? Well, I have some issues of my own. To wit:
Confession #1: I got the dumb phone, but I bought my lovely wife a smart one. She can’t stop playing with it. I wish sometimes that her phone was as dumb as mine.
Confession #2: I joined Facebook.
Confession #3: I bought an iPad.
Confession #4: I got a Wii for the boy.
Confession #5: I fantasize about getting a new computer so I don’t have to carry the laptop up and down the stairs from the studio to the study.
So while I criticize from my lofty blog all these problems I see in our culture with the abuse of technology, I can’t leave Facebook alone for a day. I go to the Huffington post several times in an hour. It’s difficult to get my lovely wife and my sweet boy to stop playing with their devices. Most of the daily cravings I have for new ways to improve my life come from images or toys or trinkets I’ve seen advertised in some way on the internet. The web is an ever-present almost omniscient beast of distraction: It keeps me from reading books, it keeps me from writing more often, it keeps me in a state of anxiety about what I must be missing–and while I could brag a blue streak about how great I am for not watching ANY commercial television for nearly a decade now, I know it’s true: the computer has replaced the television. It’s no different. It’s influences are deeper and more pernicious. I would love to be able to unplug, but I can’t unplug. I’ve got to see if I have new friends, find out what stupid things Republicans are doing, check out the bicycle I’ve been drooling over, look at tiny houses, see if anyone new has read or commented on my blog, stream some late-night TV, or, yes, I still do this, check to see if I have any email. So old school. The technology is killing me.
I’m not so far gone as some people I know or some people I see every day. After all, my phone is dumb and I’d like to keep it that way. But I worry about my son. I fret on a daily basis whether or not the iPad or the Wii were not the worst purchasing decisions I’ve ever made in terms of the health of my family. But then I say to myself, dude, the technology will not go away. The best you can do, perhaps, is not to abstain, but to learn and teach how best to live along side of it. The greatest victory is perhaps that you’re still reading and writing, you’re still engaged in other endeavors, and when the weather is good, you’re still outside playing badminton or having light saber duels with your six year old.