My Life: One Is the Phone-iest Number

Why It’s Become Creepy to Stand Alone Sans Smartphone in Your Face

Paul Wellman

The world can get alien even before the end of your arms. Let’s say you’ve been standing and talking to one person long enough that you suddenly get hyperaware about what to do with your hands, appendages suddenly useless and greater than life-size. Do you ease them into pockets? Jut them onto hips? Latch the left hand on upper right arm? Knead fingers in front of you like you’re hiding something? Don’t tell me you haven’t had that moment.

I had something worse happen when I showed up too soon to meet my lunch date recently. This happened at UCSB at a time when class shifts set the floods free. I was left alone to wait on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare that also buzzes with students biking or boarding about. I figured I might as well take it all in, enjoy the sun instead of a computer’s glare on my face, and try to figure out what fashion means for those no longer quite teens. People watching — the oldest show in town.

Just a few glimpses in, and a dull horror grew. There was something creepy, and the creep came from inside the house! That is, I was creepy, for I, by myself, was looking at others I wasn’t with. Clearly, as a loner, that sad party of one, my eyes were required to be glued to my phone. That’s what everyone else seemed to do, as if hoping to find an enlightened inner eye on one’s palm. Instead, I dared to gaze beyond myself, but why should I look about when the whole World Wide Web was my oyster?

One of the offhand brilliances in Joshua Ferris’s fine novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is the narrator’s usage of the phrase “Me Machine” for iPhone. How singularly first-person pronoun-ed we’ve become.

So, of course, I took out my phone. I could barely read it well enough in the noonday sun to hit my password properly, but that didn’t really matter. I was free to no longer be seen seeing, even if left gazing at nothing at all.

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