My daughter stopped her conversation with her mother in mid-sentence and looked across the table at me.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
I looked up at her.
“We’re having brunch together as a family, and you’re on your phone? Playing BRIDGE?”
I apologized and put the phone away, but it was too late. My worst fears had been realized. I had become that guy.
And I hate that guy.
Despite thirty-plus years in high tech and being an early and enthusiastic consumer of the Internet, I was a late adapter to cellphones, especially the “smart” variety. I actively resist any personal technology that is, or tries to be, smarter than I am. To my wife and kids, who have no such reservations, this has been a source of both vexation and amusement.
But why get an expensive, complicated toy? Texting, photos and (you radical!) phone calls were all I needed. Flip phones were robust and perhaps more importantly, contained no enablers. As a card-carrying introvert, with books, video games, and other enticements all around me, the last thing I needed was another avenue to withdraw from active society.
And I share personal information with anyone or any thing on a strictly “need to know” basis. I don’t need a phone that remembers my birthday or anniversary, or is aware of my height, weight, and cup size. When I’m asked by some social media platform to review a restaurant I left five minutes ago, I’m not impressed. I’m creeped out.
I’d be a content phone Luddite even now were it not for my darling wife, who is a fan of devices that want to get to know her. She loves her smartphone and fitness watch and has not only embraced Alexa, she’s brought her into our bedroom, with which I am still not entirely comfortable.
“I need a new phone,” she said one fateful day at the computer, a familiar refrain that I could usually acknowledge and get on with life. But not this time. “Look, there’s a sale on the <hot new phone at the time>. We can get two and have matching phones!”
This held no attraction for me, but my protest was weak. I’d started my own business recently and one of my clients had told me straight up that I really should have a smartphone. So I trundled over to have a look. Like all smartphones it was too bulky for my liking, but it had a decent camera and battery life. So I took a deep breath and said okay-if-that’s-what-you-really-want-it’s-okay-with-me.
And down the slippery slope I started.
I laid down some ground rules. As always, if I received an incoming call or text while driving or in a meeting – or I just didn’t feel like it – I was not going to reflexively reach for the phone. It works for me, not the other way round. Plus “those guys/girls” (and you know who you are) drive me nuts when they do that.
And apps were going to be minimal. A weather app, for sure, and one for my business account at the credit union. Other convenient apps have snuck in there, but I’d say overall I’ve kept to this one. In particular I’ve resisted games and other “entertainment” apps. I spend enough time already staring at screens.
But I am a student of the game of bridge. I don’t actually play much, but I enjoy reading about it and solving puzzles on how to declare or defend various hands. So I broke down and installed a bridge app. I like that I can “undo” steps and try something different, or skip quickly to another hand. It’s good for when I have a few spare moments for mental exercise. The risk is reaching the point where it interferes with personal interactions, which of course is “that guy” behavior.
And there at a nice restaurant, having brunch with my family, it happened. I hadn’t even thought about what I was doing. I’d dropped out of the active conversation, my thoughts strayed to the last hand I’d pondered earlier, and, well, there I was. Busted.
Fortunately I was forgiven for my transgression, and I have resolved to be more careful in the future. My phone is going to remain a convenient tool, not a way of life. As for Alexa, she can stay for the time being, but if she ever starts recommending certain performance-enhancing products she’s going to find a new home at the bottom of a lake.