Saturday, September 19, 2015


            As our century limped into its second decade, Kim and I thought the time was right to get a cell phone. One phone, we felt, would be sufficient. We decided to get a “smart phone,” which I believe was the iPhone 3. We wanted a smart phone because, we were told, we could use it to attract birds to photograph using something called BirdJam. As it turned out, this was true. I later learned that BirdJam is an “app,” and that “app” is spelled with two p’s.
            I should note here that my smart phone is really smart – far smarter than I am. In fact, it’s so smart that I’ve named it “Stiglitz.”* My old phone was called, “the phone.” I estimate that I only know how to use about 2% of what my phone is capable of doing.
            Once word got out that I owned a cell phone, our children (in their 30s and 40s, but still children) started calling me on it. I learned how to answer the phone. I’m still learning how to listen to voicemail.
            Kim never really wanted a cell phone, though now that she has one. Her kids kept calling my phone to talk with her. Not really inconvenient, unless I was Doing Something Important on my phone (see below). Now Kim’s son and daughter can call her on her very own phone. However, the fact is that about half of the time I answer it because she is a floor or two away, doing laundry or working on her computer. I sometimes answer it with, “Kim’s answering service.” She does not always have a handy pocket for her phone – not a problem with my 95% denim wardrobe. And she frequently has more important things going on than keeping track of her phone – things such as taking care of me.
            I decided to take inventory of how I use Stiglitz in my daily life. (There’s probably an app that can provide that information, but I will never learn how to use it.) Here’s the breakdown:
·      2% - talking on the phone
·      2% - attracting birds with BirdJam
·      30% - playing Words With Friends against my brother, Bob
·      10% - calling Kim’s phone so we can find where she left it
·      3% - checking sports scores
·      2% -checking the weather on an app so I can see what’s going on outside the window I’m sitting next to while I play with my phone
·      8% -listening to NPR podcasts while exercising
·      8% - figuring out how to use my phone after downloading an “upgrade”
·      5% - using the calculator to balance my checkbook
·      4% - deleting text messages reminding me of medical appointments
·      5% - deleting email that I already read on my computer
·      3% - setting and turning off the alarm clock app
·      1 time – using my phone as a coaster for my coffee cup
·      10% - doing things I can’t remember right now
·      8% - checking my email while I should be talking with Kim
(I saw a great cartoon in the newspaper where a couple is on a date and the woman asks the man if it’s OK if she checks her email. He tells her, No, that would be rude. Then she asks if it’s OK if she goes to the bathroom, and he says, Sure.)

            Kim’s totals would be heavily weighted toward talking on the phone. It is, after all, a phone.
            Kim and I are just getting started in the world of texting. While it has its advantages, none of which I can think of at the moment, I was warned by a conversation I had with my granddaughter, Reilly. I asked her if, when someone sends her a text message, is it rude not to answer it right away, much as it is rude not to respond to a question someone asks you across the dinner table. Yes, she said, pretty much the same. That kind of availability is pretty scary, only slightly less so with the ringing phone itself, unless I get cool and confident with voicemail. Perhaps Kim has the best solution: leaving her phone somewhere in her wake so she can deal with it whenever it is convenient for her.

*Apologies to non-Amherst readers for “Stiglitz” – an inside joke. Joe Stiglitz is a somewhat successful classmate.

Thanks to Pia for the idea for this posting.

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